Frequently Asked Questions

On this page, we answer the questions we are asked most frequently about water stewardship, the Alliance for Water Stewardship and the AWS Standard.

If you have a technical question relating to the AWS Standard that isn’t answered on this page, it might be covered in the AWS Standard 2.0 Guidance, which you can download here. If you still can’t find the answer to your question, please contact us.

General Water Stewardship Questions

What is water stewardship and the AWS Standard?

The AWS definition of water stewardship is “the use of water that is socially equitable, environmentally sustainable and economically beneficial, achieved through a stakeholder-inclusive process that involves both site and catchment level actions.” The AWS Standard is a globally applicable, voluntary sustainability standard that takes the user through a process to identify and understand their site and catchment water risks, and then act. Through an independent third-party verification system, sites that achieve AWS certification can make credible claims relating to their robust water stewardship activities.


Why should our site/company practice water stewardship?

Water risks are rapidly materialising around the world and the water crisis is receiving more and more attention from a wide array of stakeholders. Increasingly, businesses are feeling the financial and reputational pressure to ensure that they are acting responsibly towards the communities they work in and the environment they rely on. Water stewardship through the AWS Standard enables any water user, anywhere in the world to demonstrate their commitment to addressing the global water crisis.

For a site and the catchment(s) it relies on, AWS water stewardship can create the following benefits:

  • Increased efficiency, potentially creating financial savings
  • Risk mitigation, through identifying existing and potential risks at a site and catchment level, and enabling the site to engage catchment stakeholders to address shared water challenges
  • Through catchment engagement, stakeholder relationships can be strengthened, and community trust is built
  • Local water quality and availability can be improved, bringing about a range of knock-on benefits to the site, its community and the environment
  • The site can demonstrate its commitment to protecting socially and culturally important water-related areas
  • Implementation drives local collaboration and knowledge sharing
  • Local multi-stakeholder governance is strengthened, reducing regulatory and reputational risks associated with poor water management

At a corporate level, AWS water stewardship can bring about the following benefits:

  • The Standard can provide a common framework for use across the business to understand sites’ risks across the company
  • Through third-party certification, a business can make credible, independently verifiable claims relating to its water stewardship performance at certified sites
  • The Standard contributes to CDP, other disclosure mechanisms and knowledge for investors
  • Use of the AWS Standard demonstrates action on SDG 6: ensure availability and sustainable management of clean water and sanitation for all


How does AWS fit within the wider water stewardship landscape?

AWS collaborates with a wide range of other water stewardship tools, initiatives and organisations, and whilst it might seem like there are an overwhelming number of approaches available, we all play a distinct role in different parts of the water stewardship journey through our collaboration. For example:

  • The CEO Water Mandate and WBCSD are both AWS Members, and they represent some of the world’s largest companies across their two organisations. Through CEO engagement and public commitments to action, they encourage global businesses to become more sustainable through water stewardship. Many AWS implementers are members of one or both groups.
  • At a place-based and a global level, AWS collaborates closely with convening platforms such as GIZ and 2030Water Resources Group. There is a close synergy between these platforms and the AWS Standard.
  • Tools such as the WWF Water Risk Filter and WRI’s Aqueduct, also both AWS Members, enable businesses to assess their operational and supply chain water risks, which many organisations undertake as a route to identifying where they should then apply the AWS Standard.
  • ‘Communicate and disclose’ is Step 5 of the AWS Standard, and CDP disclosure is a commonly-used disclosure process for many AWS Members.

We work closely with the CEO Water Mandate, WBCSD, WWF, WRI and CDP to ensure we are as closely aligned as we can be on our messaging and our approaches. Through collaboration, we seek to engage a wide array of water stewardship stakeholders around the world.


How does water stewardship relate to water policy, regulation and Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM)?

Water stewardship and good water governance are inextricably linked. Strengthening water governance through improving and supporting policy and regulation is fundamental to water stewardship in parts of the world where water governance is weak.

Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM) and water stewardship share common roots in their multi-sectoral, stakeholder inclusive approaches. The rise of water stewardship has led to growing recognition amongst businesses of the need to engage beyond their own fence lines, and this can strengthen corporate engagement in IWRM. IWRM provides a holistic framework within which water stewardship is embedded, whilst water stewardship provides evidence and concrete action at a local level to inform policy making within the context of the SDGs.

The AWS Standard ensures that the implementer follows laws, supports improvements in water policy and regulation, and engages with local structures to facilitate multi-stakeholder water governance.


How does the AWS Standard relate to other standard systems?

Working with other standards systems provides AWS with an opportunity to scale good water stewardship practices via existing implementers of sustainability standards.

We are already working with several other voluntary sustainability standards, including the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) and GlobalG.A.P and are open to working with others. We have advised BCI on strengthening the water components of the existing BCI Standard. With GlobalG.A.P., we are developing an AWS ‘add-on’ to GlobalG.A.P. which will enable implementers to quickly identify additional activities they need to undertake to comply with the AWS Standard. We will work with GlobalG.A.P. to increase capacity amongst consultants and auditors to provide a streamlined implementation and certification process to reduce the burden on sites implementing both standards. We are also engaged with ISO to monitor and inform compatibility and alignment between the AWS Standard and the various water-related work items and standards in ISO, notably the 14000 series of standards.

As a member of ISEAL, the global body for voluntary sustainability standards, we align with best practice on standard setting and assurance processes, and we engage with other ISEAL members regularly.

The Alliance for Water Stewardship

Who funds AWS?

Our funding comes from the following sources:

  • Income from membership fees
  • Income from our accreditation programme
  • Income from licensing of our brand
  • Income from AWS training and events
  • Fundraising from development agencies and funding institutions


How is AWS Structured?

The Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS) is a global network of members and partners committed to enabling leadership on freshwater. Operationally, we are an evolving group of organisations which perform the key functions in ensuring the growth and integrity of the AWS System.

AWS International is the organisation responsible for the AWS Standard and its related systems and processes. The organisation is headquartered in Scotland and its legal structure is a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation, or SCIO.

To find out more about the global AWS Team, click here.


What is the role of government in AWS Standard implementation?

The role of government can vary depending on where the AWS Standard is being implemented. In some parts of the world, where policy and regulation are stronger, the role of government in AWS implementation is likely to be less than in countries where water governance is weaker.

Where governance is weaker, water stewardship can play an important part in strengthening it through engaging with multi-stakeholder governance, encouraging other stakeholders to engage, and advocating for improvements to policy, including support for strengthening local regulatory capacity. In these cases, government are often an important stakeholder via local water management authorities and regulators.

The AWS Standard has also been used by government to encourage greater action on sustainability at a regional and national level. In Peru, the AWS Standard is one of the approaches that can be used to achieve the Certificado Azul, and in China, the Kunshan municipal authority has offered an incentive for companies to certify against the AWS Standard as part of a package of measures to improve water quality.


Find out more about the Alliance for Water Stewardship here.

AWS Membership

What are the duties of AWS to its members?

AWS Members have a critical say in our governance by contributing to the strategic development of AWS, collaborating on the evolution of the AWS Standard and its related systems, through election to or voting on nominations to the AWS Board and Technical Committee and other AWS Member ballots as they occur throughout the year.

AWS works closely with our Members throughout the year, keeping them informed of new developments, sharing knowledge, providing access to global expertise in water stewardship and updates on innovations as they emerge, as well as providing insider updates on emerging activities, funds, partnerships, communication and collaboration opportunities.


What benefits do AWS Members enjoy?

AWS Members recognise the need for a global system to scale water stewardship via the AWS Standard.  Membership of AWS is an investment in that system.

AWS Members gain communications and marketing standout through access to AWS branding, a clear signifier of a credible approach to water-related risk through water stewardship. They also benefit from the opportunity to seek advice from across the AWS Membership Network and are able to work with AWS on communication activities.

In addition, all Members are entitled to vote on nominations to the AWS Board and Technical Committee and other ballots throughout the year. Members also receive one free ticket to the AWS Global Water Stewardship Forum.


Are there specific requirements for AWS Membership?

AWS Membership is open to any organisation that shares our values and our aim of responsible use of freshwater. AWS Membership is not open to individuals and membership does not include an obligation to pursue AWS certification. There are three categories of AWS Membership, with different fee structures for each category. The three categories are:

Civil Society
Organisations not under the control or ownership of private or public-sector actors, that have a distinct cultural, environmental, political or social mission including, but not limited, to community groups, indigenous groups, labour unions, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and multi-stakeholder balanced membership bodies and platforms.

Organisations which are not under the control or ownership of government that may be privately owned or controlled by individuals or shareholders or businesses that primarily seek the commercial and/or economic interest of themselves (or their member organizations) including and not limited to individual businesses, subsidiary companies, state-owned enterprises, social enterprises, private sector membership organisations and platforms.

Organisations which are under the control or ownership of the government, including and not limited to entities providing public benefit such as independent government agencies, government linked regulatory bodies and government recognised academic and most higher learning institutions, and whose primary aim is to pursue non-financial objectives.


How does AWS facilitate contacts with and between AWS Members and Partners?

Knowledge sharing between our Members and Partners is one of the core benefits of AWS Membership. As a result, AWS can provide introductions between AWS Members and share requests for collaboration across the AWS Membership. Some AWS Service Providers are also AWS Members, so they receive all Member communications. However, AWS does not recommend any Service Provider over another and does not have any role in contractual discussions between Implementers and Service Providers.


Find out more about AWS Membership here.

AWS Standard: Implementation and Certification

Why should I attend an AWS official training?

AWS training provides trainees with a sound understanding of the theoretical and conceptual underpinnings of water stewardship as well as insight into the AWS Standard, the implementation process and the certification requirements. Different levels of training are available depending on the level of skills you are seeking: Foundation Training provides an overview of water stewardship and the AWS Standard, Advanced Training gives greater insight into working with the AWS Standard, and Specialist Training equips individuals with the skills they need to support implementation and undertake certifications.

Benefits of attending AWS Training include: access to the latest knowledge on water stewardship, practical experience of using the AWS Standard, insight into how others have gone about assessing and responding to water risks, the ability to network with other water stewardship stakeholders and the ability to join the AWS Professional Credentialing system.


What considerations do companies make in selecting sites to implement the AWS Standard?

Typically, sites begin their water stewardship activity by undertaking a water risk assessment of their supply chains and operations. Often, they will use a tool such as WRI’s Aqueduct or WWF’s Water Risk Filter and undertake more detailed site assessments through field work and desk-based research. Once the risk assessment is complete, a judgement is often made on the value of the high water risk sites in terms of the importance to the business to ascertain whether it is prudent and financially viable to mitigate the water risks. This then enables a business to generate a list of priority sites for implementing the AWS Standard.

However, in some cases, implementers will take a different approach. For businesses where the reputational risks are high and certification across a business is deemed beneficial, all sites might pursue certification. In other cases, where supply chains or operations are concentrated in countries or regions within a country facing considerable water risks, these may form the priority list for certification.


Typically, how do sites go about implementing the Standard?

Normally, implementers begin by attending an AWS training course to improve their understanding of water stewardship, the AWS Standard and the certification process. These courses are delivered by AWS. Most implementers then choose to employ a Professionally Credentialed Individual to support them through implementation of the Standard. Sometimes, an implementer will start by undertaking a gap analysis against the Standard to more accurately ascertain how they currently stand relative to AWS requirements.


What costs are involved in implementing the AWS Standard for a site?

The costs involved with implementing the Standard broadly fall under the following categories:

  • Staff training and capacity building (to improve internal skills relating to water stewardship)
  • Implementation support from Professionally Credentialed Individuals
  • Costs related to activities undertaken as part of the implementation process
  • Certification costs


What does a site gain from being certified?

Through certification, a site can make credible, independently verifiable claims relating to their water stewardship activity. In addition, they gain access to AWS Certified Site branding to use in marketing and communications relating to the site. Benefits of this include: the ability to demonstrate to local stakeholders that the site meets globally endorsed best practice in water stewardship and evidence to customers that the site is taking credible action to tackle water risks. At a corporate level, having AWS certified sites within operations and supply chains demonstrates a business’s commitment to water stewardship and the wider sustainability agenda.

Some sites choose to implement the AWS Standard but don’t pursue certification. Whilst we do encourage a wide range of uses for the AWS Standard beyond certification, it is important for sites to be aware that without undergoing an audit and achieving certification, the site is unable to make any claims relating to their AWS activity, and they won’t have access to the benefits outlined above.


At what stage in applying the Standard should a site consider initiating the certification process?

The decision to implement the Standard and the decision to get certified are two different business decisions. Implementation brings the operational and performance improvements associated with the approach to water stewardship. Certification brings the added value of and rigor of impartial validation, and the benefits of the claims and branding. Therefore, as soon as a site determines that it would benefit from certification, they should initiate the process. The sooner in the implementation process the better, to avoid any surprises or inefficiencies that be introduced by engaging the conformity assessment service provider too late.


How do I go about certifying against the Standard?

Sites who intend to pursue certification follow the process outlined above for implementing the Standard, with the additional steps of registering their intention to certify and engaging with WSAS – the mission-driven Conformity Assessment Body for the Alliance for Water Stewardship System, including an audit of the site when the site is deemed ready for certification.

Registration is an important part of the certification process, as it is a requirement of the Standard that sites communicate their intention to certify and engage with stakeholders transparently. Registration is via a form on our website.


How long does it generally take to attain AWS Certification?

The length of time it takes to achieve certification depends on a number of factors including the location of the site, the site’s industry, the complexity of the catchment within which the site is located, availability of data for the site and the catchment and the amount of experience the site and the business have with water stewardship and AWS.

If the implementing site is one of the first in its industry or the wider business to undergo AWS, the process could take longer as knowledge, skills and data are gathered to support certification. Conversely, if the site is part of a large group of sites within a business all undergoing AWS implementation at the same time, the process may be much quicker due to the availability of systems, knowledge, processes and structures to support AWS implementation and certification.


Find out more about AWS Certification here.