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Industrial Water Stewardship – A Look into the Future

Shannon Donley, Program Implementation Manager

A team led by the Council of Great Lakes Industries hosted a well-attended expert workshop last week in Ann Arbor, MI, that was focused on tools that industry can use to become better stewards of the region’s water resources. I was pleased again to be sitting at the table debating the topic with an engaged and diverse group of basin stakeholders—industry, state and federal agencies, nongovernmental organizations, and nonprofits were all represented.

Throughout several years of GLPF-supported work, this team examined and tested a series of water stewardship tools (e.g. Alliance for Water Stewardship’s International Water Stewardship Standard; Water Footprint Network methodology; Global Water Tool; Carbon Disclosure Project Water Disclosure Project, and others) and analyzed how well these tools—originally developed for water scarce regions—would work in a water rich region such as the Great Lakes. The team aimed to identify or develop a tool to reduce ecosystem impacts from water use and comply with industry needs.

The team piloted the tools in five high volume industrial facilities in the basin. Through their pilot work, they influenced the development of the final Alliance for Water Stewardship’s (AWS) International Water Stewardship Standard and contributed to the global discussion on the applicability of water stewardship tools. Read more about the project here and here and visit the project website here.

Last week’s workshop was one of many this team has held over the duration of the project, all of them well attended and all sparking lively debate about the role of industry in water conservation and stewardship in the Great Lakes region. The team leaders, Dale Phenicie and Kathryn Buckner, impressively demonstrated the power and value of a collaborative team by having many varied interests in the same room together actively engaged in go forward strategies and tackling difficult questions about what is next for industrial water stewardship in the Great Lakes.

How do these tools fit into a highly regulated region such as ours where industry must obtain permits and comply with local, state and federal laws for their water use and discharge?

How do you define water conservation/water stewardship in a water rich region?

Should conservation here be less about “gallons saved” and more about “valued added” to the ecosystem?

Where in the region would water stewardship tools, if applied by industry, provide the most impact?

This was the team’s last GLPF-funded workshop. The project is winding down but the activity around industrial water stewardship is ramping up. This work has been successful in bringing diverse interests together and catalyzing a discussion that will continue to advance the sustainability of the basin’s water resources.

Shannon Donley, Program Implementation Manager