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As global water demand intensifies and water becomes an increasingly dominant part of the climate challenge, Ken Stockil, CEO of 20FIFTY Partners (formerly known as Central Solutions) and Network Promoter of the Lean & Green Skillnet, examines how Irish businesses are turning the tide by embracing water stewardship. 


The critical connection between addressing the global water crisis and addressing the climate emergency is unquestionable. Indeed, it is likely that we will feel the impact of climate change most profoundly through water– both in our businesses and in our daily lives.

As climate action and moving to a low carbon economy have become focal points of national and international policy intention, the need to address water-related problems will be critical. These problems manifest in food production, human health, sustainable business operations, and energy production as well as headline-grabbing extreme weather events. It is little wonder that the World Economic Forum, has ranked water as one of the top ten risks to global growth with respect to both impact and likelihood of occurrence.

Water demand is also intensifying. The UN estimates water demand will outstrip supply by 2030 and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) projects that, under business as usual, water demand will increase by 55% globally by 2050.

Ireland – Leading the Way by Setting New Standards

Ireland has developed a strong leadership position in addressing water stewardship responses across Irish businesses in recent years. The genesis of this movement can be traced back to 2013 with the establishment of the Large Water Users Community of Practice – a voluntary network of companies working to develop and maintain strong water stewardship practices in their operations in Ireland. This network has since grown to consist of 250+ companies representing over 70% of Ireland’s industrial water use.  

The group quickly understood that skills and workforce development had a critical role to play in addressing the water challenges facing Irish businesses and engaged with Skillnet Ireland to establish the Lean & Green Skillnet. Since its establishment in 2015, Lean & Green Skillnet has worked collaboratively with industry to equip businesses with the skills required to take action in the areas of sustainability and climate adaptation. 

Following the establishment of the Large Water Users Community of Practice, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) funded a seminal research report on water titled ‘A National Roadmap for Water Stewardship in Industry and Agriculture in Ireland.’ Laying out a clear path for establishing Ireland as a leader in addressing water challenges across the business sector, the report emphasised the critical need to proactively address the skills agenda in order to achieve these aims.

A Complex Challenge

Addressing water in business is a complex challenge. Just as water is inextricably linked to climate change, so too is it inextricably linked to business supply chains, production processes, environmental impacts, reputational standing, and indeed workforce welfare. 

Further layers are added to this complex skills agenda in terms of monitoring. Firms must develop competencies to consider water efficiency and water quality in their operations and across their operating catchments and supply chains. These factors combine to create a challenging, complex task for businesses; translating the need to address water in their business into an actionable agenda.  

The Certified Water Stewardship Programme – Moving Beyond Pledges to Action and Impact

In 2019, Lean & Green Skillnet in collaboration with Irish Water and supported by Skillnet Ireland, created an innovative new programme to address this skills agenda.  

The Certified Water Stewardship programme is the first of its kind globally in terms of the content and levels of industry engagement achieved nationwide since the launch. A landmark offering, it builds on the industry expertise and shared best practices accessible through the member firms, and the strategic input and support from Irish Water, to deliver a world class programme of learning to Irish businesses.

The Certified Water Stewardship programme offers a long-term framework and certification model for participating businesses. This emphasis on practical skills and training ensures tangible, measurable results. 

One of the businesses that undertook one of the first programmes, Nestle Wyeth in Limerick, recently became only one of five independently certified platinum level water stewardship plants in the world on foot of its participation in the programme which underlines just how significant the programme is.  

“The Certified Water Steward Programme supported the factory in meeting its corporate water sustainability targets and becoming the first site in Ireland to achieve Platinum certification under the Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS) Standard,” – Ian Ryan, Certified Water Steward and Internal AWS Certification Lead, Wyeth Askeaton.

Perhaps even more impressive is the fact that in the last 18 months, over 300 of Ireland’s leading industrial and service sites have graduated from the programme. Participating companies have included Intel, Microsoft, Aramark, Green Isle Foods, Sofrimar, ABP Food Group, Dawn Meats, Bulmers, Irish Distillers, Dalata, and Musgraves among others. The breadth of industry sectors engaging with this programme demonstrates its far-reaching impact on the business community, as well as its wider contribution to the sustainability skills agenda.  

Stabilising the Climate Challenge through Industry Collaboration

The involvement of SMEs is continuing to gather pace, underpinning the programme’s pivotal contribution in establishing Ireland as one of the world’s corporate water stewardship leaders and delivering a tangible impact on critical climate challenges through workforce development. Collectively, programme participants have undertaken over 800 water improvement projects within their workplaces indicating a scale of engagement and impact that other jurisdictions have yet to come close to achieving.

The climate crisis remains a seismic challenge for our society and economy, which will require collective responsiveness if we are to achieve the necessary targets. The Water Stewardship Programme is proof of the significant progress being made through collaborative, enterprise-led workforce development projects which will pave the way to a more sustainable and stable future for businesses. 

Further information on the delivery of the Lean & Green Skillnet Water Stewardship Programme in 2021 is available at

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