Puratos and sustainability (3): giving water back to nature

27 May 2019

Article

 

For every euro Puratos earns, a litre water is needed. No need to say that water is extremely important to our company. That’s why we made the use of water one of our main sustainability goals. In 2030, our water usage has to be reduced by 25% and all the water we discharge needs to be 100% in control, so we can give it back to nature. We call this water balance. Franck Cassé, Environmental Sustainability Programme Manager at Puratos, explains what Puratos does to realise this water balance. “Just as for the projects we’ve set up to become carbon neutral, an important prerequisite for all water balance projects is do something positive that makes sense to people and nature.”

Water is extremely important for Puratos

“As a company active in the food industry, we need water to operate. Not only as an ingredient, but also for cooling, cleaning and for the people on site. We use it and then discharge it; 95% of the water goes back into the environment. To show you how important it is to us: we need a litre for every euro of sales we make. That’s why our water balance is one of our main goals towards a sustainable operation. Our other key goal is to reduce our carbon emissions and become carbon neutral in 2025. But our water balance – also called water stewardship – is more difficult and more precarious than CO2 emissions. When we run out of water, we have no business.”

 

The world is running out of water

Water is becoming increasingly scarce. Because of climate change, deforestation, changing lifestyles with a higher water use (more showers and toilets) and the growing world population. “Puratos has a production site in São Paulo. Recently, the city had to contend with a water shortage and water was rationed to 6 hours a day. Challenging for the 20 million habitants of the city, and also for us. This time it was in São Paulo, but it will become a worldwide problem.”

 

 

 

Water balance to avoid permanent water shortage

To avoid permanent water shortage in the near future, water should be used carefully. “Puratos has committed itself to use no more water than we need, and after use we want to give the water back to the environment in good condition. We call this water balance. And it means that the water we’re discharging should be clean and suitable to flow back into nature again.”

 

Water is a human right and a joint responsibility

“Water is human right. It should never become a commodity for the rich ones. If a farmer in Brazil can pay less than Puratos, should we get to use all the water? Of course not. It has to be available to everyone, rich or poor. We have to find a way to share the resources, because there just isn’t enough for everybody. And we have to use our water smartly. If the water I discharge here is polluted, the farmer who irrigates his land with it will use polluted water to grow his crops. And if rivers become parched, the fish will die. We all suffer from the consequences, so the smart use of water is a joint responsibility. We firmly believe active cooperation between private and public sector is crucial to secure water for people and nature.”

 

Walk the talk

Compared to the total water consumption in the world, Puratos is not a big consumer. “No one is; there are billions of small consumers. The whole community should be aware of the dangers; we need everyone to handle water correctly. So what we do is engage the community. And to be credible, we have to walk the talk. We ask others for commitment, and show – don’t just tell – them we take it very seriously ourselves.

 

So we take water, but only from sustainable sources. We use groundwater in areas where there is enough of it. Not enough water in the area? Then we choose another solution, like using rainwater. At our biggest chocolate production site, 10% of our water already comes from rain, at the end of 2019 it should be 20%, and in three years’ time we want this to increase to 50%. To accomplish that, and to make sure there’s always enough water available, we need to build big buffers to store the water before it is used and discharged.”

 

How Puratos makes sure there’s enough water available

Using rainwater is one of the possible sustainable water solutions. But Puratos’ approach to water balance differs between countries and is adjusted to the available groundwater. “At almost every production site, water is the main challenge. How do we make sure it’s always available? And how do we use it in a way that’s good for the company, the people and the environment, as we’ve committed to in the sustainable vision of Puratos? We take all sorts of actions: we use the right tools, we only use the water we need, we reuse the water on site wherever we can, we plant trees around our cacao plantations to retain water (which also helps us in our goal to become carbon neutral). And we put a lot of effort into the water that we discharge.

 

Discharging water in a responsible way

Puratos takes the quality of its waste water very seriously. “All the water that we discharge needs to be 100% in control. That doesn’t mean we turn our waste water into drinking water. First of all, water that goes directly into the sewer doesn’t have to be of drinking quality. And second, drinking water isn’t good for the environment. Fish would immediately die in there. What we do is make sure our discharged water is good for the environment; we want healthy fish to live in the water we discharge.”

 

 

 

 

Fish ponds and mountain streams filled with waste water

To show employees and visitors that the waste water is perfect for fish to live in, Puratos is creating fish ponds at several sites. “Our production site in China is located in the outskirt of Guangzhou . Employees couldn’t take a little walk during their lunch break as there was nothing around. We created a fish pond here to show the quality of our discharged water, placed trees and benches around it and made it a nice place to spend some time. Again: good for nature, good for the people and good for the company.

The Chinese fish pond is not the only example. One of Puratos sites is located in Saint-Vith, in Belgium. The Sourdough Library is located here, amongst others. “When you go there, the countryside is beautiful. And with our waste water treatment, we want to create water wetlands. No fish pond here, but a little mountain stream in which healthy trout are swimming. It’s a lovely place and it’s good for the environment: we want to use our waste water in a useful way and give the fish a better reproduction area.”

Use water in a smart way

In 2019, a big water balance project will be carried out. “Our site in Andenne, Belgium, uses the most water of the whole company. Of the water Puratos uses globally, 25% is used here! This is caused by the character of the Andenne site: the focus here is on biotechnology. The yeast, sourdough, enzymes and the drying process… everything needs a lot of water. But we’re now in the middle of a massive water reuse project from our wastewater, which should reduce the water use by 30%.

 

We’re also building a fish pond here, next to the employee car park, to show it’s under control. We’re aiming to use the discharged water for use on site – instead of using water from the environment. We will not use that water in our products, but for other applications. Compare this to cleaning your car or flushing the toilet. We now use drinking water to do this, which is quite ridiculous: first you put a lot of energy in sanitising the water, and then you flush the toilet with it. Water should be used in a smarter way, and that’s what Puratos is working on.”

 

This blog is the third part of a series of CSR blogs about Puratos and sustainability. Part 1 explains the vision of Puratos on how to become sustainable. In part 2, you can discover what we do to become carbon neutral in 2025.