A new standard for water management practices

Credit: Kurdich Sirmon

The European Water Stewardship programme is an integrative system for business and agriculture to assess, verify and communicate sustainable water management practices.

Important progress has been made in water protection in Europe over the past few decades. However, Europe’s waters still need increased efforts to get them clean, to bring them back to their ecological health and to manage them sustainably. The Chairman of the European Water Partnership (EWP) speaks about a new tool to stimulate stakeholders to solve Europe’s water problems and contribute to solutions that will address the global water crisis.

Danube Watch: Why is an EU water standard needed?
Cristina Babryn:
European legislation has expanded within member states to cover wider climatic and social conditions. This has made it clear that legal measures are not enough to drive all the change needed to improve water status in Europe. In addition, we need actions from the private sector and citizens to enhance these regulations and to push for real change.

From recent discussions on the implementation of the EU Water Framework Directive (WFD), the so-called Blueprint Process, we saw the difficulties in achieving the WFD objective – good water status for all EU waters by 2015. Given the international nature of Europe’s river basins, global strategies for collective action and cohesive management are all the more important. For that, we urgently need applicable tools that enforce and support private actions in support of sustainable water management.

Danube Watch: What is the motivation for companies to apply the EWS Standard?
Cristina Babryn:
Businesses regard the EWS assessment as an added value. It provides them with an opportunity to network with stakeholders, provide a global overview of risks, identify the best response to pressure from authorities, facilitate internal training, integrate available information and identify communication needs. The assessment is flexible in its response strategy, and takes factors such as local geographical, climatic and social conditions into account for finding targeted and applicable solutions.

Entire sectors apply the EWS Standard, particularly those with site-specific challenges that aren’t being addressed by other environmental assessments. This has been the initial motivation for a recent pilot study on airports, where the entire sector will benefit from the EWS site-specific approach in the future.

Associations within a sector can use the standard as a unified assessment approach, which the European Chemical Industry Council (CEFIC) did as part of its ‘Responsible Care Program’. This allows for clear communication of goals and objectives within the associations to improve water use efficiency and secure the long-term availability of natural resources. In the recent European Crop Protection Association (ECPA) project ‘Time to Change Initiative’, stakeholders shared their long-term goals and expectations in implementing the EWS Standard, and they expressed appreciation for the advantage of its application as a group.

Danube Watch: There are many ways in which companies can prove environmental awareness. How does the ews standard differ other similar schemes?
Cristina Babryn:
There are no competitors, as EWS is structured as a complementary scheme. It is targeted for all water users who want to have an integrated, holistic view of their water management performance to define local and targeted water response strategies.

Other systems address specific aspects of water management in depth – like foot printing – or deal with basic water management indicators through a sustainability or best-management practice assessment, like EMAS or Global GAP. The EWS Standard, on the other hand, provides an integrative assessment of the impacts on all aspects of water management.

Danube Watch: How is the ews standard funded?
Cristina Babryn:
EWS has structured its business model along a stakeholder approach, giving them the rights to the intellectual property. The EWS Standard on its part is currently under EWP management and is different from standards awarded by public authorities since it is entirely voluntary and funded by the EWS partners. Clients cover the costs of activities directly related to the certification and are entirely sitespecific, depending on the size, location and sphere of the certification at hand and look to results provided by initial water reporting.

Danube watch: How do you avoid ‘green washing’?
Cristina Babryn:
We involve partners and members to develop a clear certification process and establish indicators. This should ensure that the implementation of EWS is as stringent, thorough and transparent as possible. Using an experienced third party certification also provides validity for the EWS Standard.


The European Water Partnership is a non-profit organisation which coordinates activities regarding European water issues. It was born as the result of a stakeholder process combining knowledge of water users in Europe to respond to the need for a cohesive system for business and agriculture to assess, improve and communicate sustainable water management practices.

European Water Stewardship (EWS) Standard &
certification process

The EWS Standard strives to be structurally simple yet also thorough. It is based on four principles:
1. Sustainable abstraction: Quantification of water use and its impacts on the water supply and river basin status.
2. Water status: Knowledge of risk linked to substances used and the impact of effluents or other pollutants on any potential destinations and any mitigation strategies.
3. High conservation value areas: Are mapped and potential impacts on ecological values well known.
4. Governance: Long-term management procedures addressing overall water use efficiency, public participation and collective actions with transparency regarding management and economics.

Voluntary application of the EWS Standard highlights the following steps:
1. Assessment of risks associated with the operator’s water management.
2. Identification of the immediate operational impacts on the local watershed.
3. Development of appropriate actions for a mitigation strategy based on recognised management risks.

For more information on the EWS Standard, please visit: www.ewp.eu/activities/water-stewardship/water-stewardship-standard

Benedikt Mandl is the Technical Expert for Public Participation and Communication in the ICPDR Secretariat, and the Executive Editor of Danube Watch.

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