Danone builds the tools to measure its water footprint


Through its Waters division, Danone is taking on the challenge to measure its water footprint at every step of the production chain. Eventually, the idea is to be able to set precise goals for reducing this footprint.


Acknowledging the environmental impacts of its activity and striving to curb them is key to Danone’s approach and defence of its dual economic and social project. Over the past five years, the group has focused on reducing its carbon emissions, for instance: firstly by measuring them, then by making a commitment to reduce them (by 30%) and finally by improving or changing its practices, all along the production chain, in order to reach that goal (a 35.2% reduction was finally achieved at the start of 2013, as explained here). Today, Danone is taking on a new challenge: addressing its water footprint. Jean-Christophe Bligny, Environment Scientific Affairs Director at Danone explains that, just as with carbon, the first step is to measure the impact. Danone has chosen to develop its own measuring tools, based on international recognized methodology. These will have a twofold mission: to gather information on the state of things, and to provide a picture accurate enough to identify the areas where more action is needed.


Measuring, then setting goals


For a long time, Danone has been measuring its direct water consumption, i.e. the amount of water used at production sites, for all the Group’s divisions, thanks to an indicator called the Water Use Ratio.

The real challenge today lies in being able to measure the indirect impacts as well. To do this, Danone Waters is developing, with Quantis (a company that “helps organisations move toward sustainability through the life-cycle approach”), a tool called DROP (Danone water Resource Optimisation Programme).

The idea is to take account of the whole life cycle of the product, and the water footprint associated with each step of the chain. Eventually, DROP will consist of two main indicators. The first one, called the Water Scarcity Footprint, will enable the analysis of water consumption for each area. Recovering one litre of water in a water-scarce region is in fact more impactful than taking the same amount from regions with more abundant resources. This will help identify the areas experiencing hydric stress and adapt Danone’s water consumption accordingly, throughout the cycle. The second indicator, still in development, will be called the Water Degradation Footprint.

The idea here is to address the water footprint in terms of quality, not just quantity. Although the tool is not defined yet – We are in the approach phase,

says Jean-Christophe Bligny – it will most likely merge a variety of environmental impacts, such as acidification, eco-toxicity and eutrophication. Measuring these accurately will enable a detailed and efficient response to reduce these impacts.

Jean-Christophe Bligny explains that DROP will be incorporated into the organisation just as the Carbon tool was, with the aim of involving everyone, for every product and at each step of the way. Although Danone already carries out a variety of actions in favour of sound water management (some of which we talked about here), DROP will enable a global approach, global goals and global results. The tool will first be deployed solely in the Waters division: by 2014, it is expected to have made enough headway to set precise goals and target numbers. Later, it will be used to measure and set goals for all Danone divisions – making the water footprint a key element in the Group’s approach to its environmental impact.

Photo © Shutterstock / Chepko Danil Vitalevich