More than just volume

The focus of a special panel discussion at in-cosmetics 2013, reducing water footprint should be a key sustainability strategy for brands, says Jacques Sebag

The focus of a special panel discussion at in-cosmetics 2013, reducing water footprint should be a key sustainability strategy for brands, says Jacques Sebag

Defined in the 70s, sustainable development really gained global public awareness only late last decade. Now that we realise that water scarcity will be one of the major political and economic issues of the coming decades, the impact of water use is slowly but surely becoming the new number one to watch on the sustainable dashboard. In fact, a structural revolution is already at work in the beauty industry.

In our industry, water is the number one ingredient. Not just because it comes out as the first ingredient in most INCI lists, but also because it is a critical component in the cleaning and sanitisation of plants. Furthermore, as brands are developing their activities in emerging markets, they are also discovering territories where access to (quality) water is far more complex than in Europe, Japan or the US. In this context, developing a proactive water management policy becomes essential and the most serious players are already engaged in developing sustainable water management strategies.

Jacques Sebag, owner Re-Source!

The ‘water footprint’ indicator was introduced by Professor Arjen Hoekstra in 2002. Essentially a volumetric measure, it looks at both direct and indirect water use and is computed over the full supply chain. It differentiates between three types of water: blue water refers to surface and ground water; green water refers to rainwater stored in the soil as soil moisture; and grey water refers to pollution and is defined as the volume of fresh water that is required to assimilate the pollutants based on existing ambient water quality standards. On this basis for instance, you can determine that a 125ml cup of coffee in fact requires 132 litres of water (96% green, 1% blue, 3% grey).

The water footprint method has been largely promoted by the Water Footprint Network, which offers a water footprint calculator to help producers assess the impact of their products and operations. Some players have also developed their own assessment methods and this has generated questions about consistency. A new ISO norm (14046) is being developed, which takes into account local water scarcity weighting factors and will cover requirements and guidelines to assess and report water footprint based on life cycle analysis.

The indicator has been helpful to enable water users to take action. But more and more it is realised that a purely volumetric approach for water impact is not sufficient. Veolia has developed a Water Impact Index that integrates all aspects of the water cycle including water quality and availability in the local environment. Another indicator, The Water Stress Index developed by Stephan Pfister, works with Google Maps and shows how the impact of water consumption varies in different regions and more importantly in river basins. The Pfister map provides a stress indicator ranging from 0 (no water stress, blue-coloured) to 1 (extreme water stress, red-coloured) for the globe and differentiated in more than 11,000 watersheds, facilitating the calculation of the water footprint of products.

Most major players in the beauty industry started to implement a water management policy by the mid 2000s. All of them successfully met their objectives in 2012, reducing their water consumption by an average of 20% over the last five years.

Jacques Euler who is in charge of the Beauty Care Water and Waste Sustainability programme for Procter & Gamble (P&G) is an active member of the global Beauty Care Water Team. For Euler, implementing a successful water policy is an incentive to innovate and design more clever manufacturing processes.

“Sustainable development is a mix of common sense and state of the art technologies,” he says. “When addressing an existing facility, the first thing to do is to go back to fundamental principles and develop a comprehensive picture of the processes. Where do I consume water? Analyse the different water flows in and out and identify possible leaks. Decide on where you can save water and formalise a plan of action with quantitative objectives. Simple measures can yield great results. Then try to replicate the best practices developed across the globe.”

P&G has reduced its water consumption per production unit by 50% over the last ten years, averaged across a wide variety of situations ranging from a new production unit started from scratch to adapting an existing tool. The ideal situation is, of course, to be able to fully integrate good practices into the design of the production unit itself – the master concept for maximum efficiency. This is where innovation produces the most interesting results.

Euler has just finished a mission in Romania. Looking at the factory, the first idea that comes to mind is that of garden, a reflection of the time he has spent in China during his career. “Echoing the notion of Tao, the new factory has been designed with a holistic understanding of industrial efficiency taking into account all the parameters of sustainable development and social responsibility. Even the aesthetics play a role,” Euler explains. “It creates a working environment where P&G employees are in contact with the natural environment. It helps raise people’s awareness and commitment.”

In the end, adopting a serious water policy is in fact engaging in a whole new philosophy of how to design, manufacture and sell products without increasing their costs. This means more clever processes that depend on developing the skills, innovative spirit and value of your co-workers… as well as your suppliers.

As part of the H2O programme at in-cosmetics Paris 2013, a special panel discussion will address the challenges of enhancing the water footprint in the beauty industry and offer the opportunity for a creative dialogue between manufacturers and suppliers.