By Kevin Westerling,
Innovation can take many forms. In the water and wastewater industry, new and emerging technologies get most of the credit for being innovative and potentially transformative. However, new modes of thinking can have equal and sometimes greater impact.
Importantly, innovative thinking in the form of policy or operational changes often requires little expenditure — at least when compared to treatment plant overhauls, for instance — but it does require an open mind and the courage to diverge from the beaten path.
The Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS) devoted four years to a concept that may indeed prove to be transformative, though naysayers may call it overly ambitious. The lofty idea, introduced by AWS in April 2014, is a water sustainability standardization and certification process that applies to any water manager around the world — regardless of size, environment, or type of water being handled. The AWS Standard is detailed in a document befitting its scope (188 pages long), put together by an impressive coalition of water organizations and companies that comprise AWS. To name just a few of its international members, AWS includes the Water Environment Federation (WEF), the European Water Partnership (EWP), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), The Pacific Institute, The Nature Conservancy, and Water Stewardship Australia — the latter having founded the organization in 2008.
Though “sustainability” is the stated goal, the underlying mission is to help solve, or at least mitigate, the worsening problem of global water scarcity. AWS cites a UN report stating that 47 percent of the world’s population will be living in areas of high water stress by 2030. If the existing supply is managed irresponsibly, AWS contends, the situation could lead to millions of people without access to safe water and sanitation, while also sending economies and environmental systems into turmoil.
Instead of sitting back and viewing water scarcity as a purely local issue, AWS took the opposite approach and decided to give the whole world a collective kick in the pants. The result was a common, voluntary standard applicable to all — public, private, municipal, or industrial; those working with clean water, wastewater, or anywhere in between.
Due to this all-of-the-above approach, the guidelines are necessarily over-arching, though they are quite detailed. The AWS Standard is designed to achieve four outcomes: (1) good water governance, (2) sustainable water balance, (3) good water quality status, and (4) healthy status of “important water-related areas” — i.e., “areas of a catchment that, if impaired or lost, would adversely impact the environmental, social, cultural, or economic benefits derived from the catchment in a significant or disproportionate manner.”
To gauge performance, a point system was created based on criteria (actions that must be undertaken) and indicators (evidence that the actions were completed). The many criteria and indicators are spread throughout six core tasks: (1) commit, (2) gather and understand, (3) plan, (4) implement, (5) evaluate, and (6) communicate and disclose. Reaching a certain score will certify the participant as a “sustainable water steward.” Visit www.allianceforwaterstewardship.org to learn more about the standard and perhaps set a path toward certification.
When it comes to embracing innovative technologies and concepts — as with the new AWS Standard — participation may vary, but it is highly recommended.