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New Assurance Model

Alliance for Water Stewardship / New Assurance Model

Strengthening credibility, enhancing value, and driving growth with integrity

In October 2020, the AWS Board agreed on an important change in the way AWS assurance is delivered to reduce complexity for users and further strengthen the credibility of AWS certification. Central to this is the establishment of a new mission-driven organisation, which will be the sole Conformity Assessment Body (CAB) for the AWS System.

Key benefits

  • Greater alignment of AWS assurance provision goals with the mission of AWS
  • More robust and effective oversight of assurance processes
  • Enhanced training and competence development (as it relates to the AWS Standard) for auditors and audit teams
  • Greater consistency in reporting and interpretation
  • A new digital platform providing a simplified and improved user experience 
  • Greater consistency in interpretation and reporting 

How does AWS assurance currently work?

As a Code Compliant member of the ISEAL Alliance, AWS assurance follows international best practice that encourages learning and improvement.

Our Assurance Model is designed as follows:

AWS Members elect members of the Technical Committee.

Both elections to the Technical Committee and its composition are balanced across stakeholder interest groups. The Technical Committee defines and is responsible for maintaining the integrity and quality of the AWS assurance requirements.

The AWS Board decides on the best strategy for implementing assurance.

The AWS Board has the responsibility to ensure that assurance delivery meets credibility and business goals. The AWS Board is also elected directly by AWS Members.

Conformity Assessment Bodies (CABs) provide assurance services to sites seeking AWS certification.

CABs operate under an accreditation agreement with AWS and must adhere to the requirements set by the Technical Committee.

Oversight of CAB performance is conducted by AWS Staff.

Our System Integrity Unit is responsible for ensuring that CABs operate in line with the requirements set by the Technical Committee.

Introducing a new mission-driven organisation

From October 2021, Water Stewardship Assurance Services (WSAS) will be the sole Conformity Assessment Body (CAB) for the AWS System.

As uptake of AWS grows in the coming years, delivering assurance through a single CAB, which is fully aligned to the goals of AWS, will help ensure the credibility of AWS certification, and the value this provides for members and certified sites. The fundamental architecture of AWS assurance, however, remains otherwise unchanged.

Applications are now open to join the WSAS Board of Directors, including one position as independent Chair.

 

Applications are now open to join the WSAS Certification Advisory Committee.

 

Ensuring impartiality

Independent certification will remain a central pillar of the AWS assurance model. AWS International (as the standard scheme owner) will play no part in certification decisions. This will be evidenced by full compliance with the ISEAL Assurance Code (ISEAL is the global membership organisation for credible sustainability standards) and work has already begun to ensure that WSAS will achieve accreditation to ISO 17065, the globally recognised standard for certification bodies, at the earliest possible date.

Strengthening oversight

As the standard scheme owner, a critical role of AWS International is to conduct robust oversight of CAB performance. This is vital in maintaining the credibility of the AWS System. As AWS certification grows, maintaining close oversight of multiple CABs presents significant challenges and credibility risks.

With a single mission-driven CAB, our ability to ensure robust oversight of assurance processes will be strengthened, as will our agility to respond to learnings in a rapidly changing operating environment. The delivery of assurance through this approach will generate more effective learning pathways, enabling AWS International to respond to new knowledge and insights.

WSAS will also be incorporating increased independent scrutiny and support functions through the establishment of an independent Certification Advisory Committee. This will be a stakeholder representative body to advise on certification processes, ensure impartiality of certification decisions and deal with questions and appeals related to individual certification decisions. Members of this committee will be independent of AWS, WSAS, and AWS members.

New IT platform

The introduction of a new digital platform will enable consistent and efficient certification processes across all sites, as well as providing an improved user experience. The IT platform will also enable consistent reporting, which enhances transparency in relation to AWS certification processes.

In addition, the new IT platform administered through a single, mission-driven CAB will generate more effective learning pathways, enabling AWS International to be more responsive to new knowledge and insights. Sites seeking AWS certification will be given access to the digital platform and guidance on its use.

What does this mean for sites?

  • From 1 October 2021, new contracts for certification services must be established with WSAS
  • WSAS will be fully operational from 1 January 2022
  • Sites seeking to contract services for initial certification audits after 1 January 2022 should contact WSAS, via the email below
  • Sites seeking to be audited before 1 January 2022 should therefore engage with their existing CABs as normal
  • Sites whose certificates expire after 1 January 2022 should engage with WSAS for re-certification
  • For further guidance, please contact us.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

For more information, please read our short FAQs section below. Further details will be provided to all stakeholders in AWS in due course, including the steps current and future certified sites will need to take.

 

What has changed in AWS assurance?

Under the new Assurance Model, the only thing that is changing is the delivery mechanism of AWS assurance. WSAS will fulfil the same functions as our 10 currently accredited CABs, working in line with the requirements set by the Technical Committee. AWS International will continue to conduct oversight and ensure the robustness of conformity assessment services. The key difference is that WSAS will be the sole CAB – a mission-driven subsidiary of AWS International, in pursuit of the same goals as AWS. This will align the goals of our assurance model with the rest of the AWS System. The fundamental architecture of the Assurance Model remains otherwise unchanged.

In October 2020, the AWS Board reached the decision for AWS to move to delivery of assurance services through a mission-driven CAB, to provide a more streamlined approach that reduces complexities for users and further strengthens the credibility of AWS certification.

Why has AWS decided to change the Assurance Model?

Our aim is first and foremost to strengthen the credibility of AWS certification through closer oversight and consistent application of AWS requirements. More broadly, we aim to transform assurance into a genuine driver for growth. A key part of this is to minimise the complexities of the current delivery model and focus on an improved user experience and, ultimately, more value for sites achieving certification.

How will I certify or recertify my site under the new assurance model?

Sites seeking certification will engage directly with WSAS to contract certification services from 1 October 2021. WSAS will be responsible for delivering all contracted services.

What is the transition timeline?

Key dates/ transition milestones

1 October 2021: 

  • New contracts for certification services will be established between WSAS and sites seeking certification (initial or re-certification) to enable a smooth transition for audits to be conducted under WSAS from January 2022.
  • From 1 October 2021, our currently accredited CABs will not be able to secure new contracts for AWS certification.

1 January 2022:

  • WSAS is fully operational.
  • All initial AWS certification and re-certification services will be delivered through WSAS.

Who should I contact to get my site certified?

  • Sites seeking to get audited before January 2022 should engage with our currently accredited CABs as normal.
  • Sites seeking to contract services for initial certification audits after 1 January 2022 should arrange a contract with WSAS.
  • Sites whose certificate expires after 1 January 2022 should engage with WSAS for re-certification.

Will existing contracts be honoured?

Existing certification contracts that extend beyond January 2022 (covering a maximum of three years in line with the three-year AWS certification cycle) may still be honoured on condition that AWS and the relevant CAB finalise the necessary legal agreement to enable the CAB to continue to deliver contracted services. AWS has contacted all CABs explaining this process.

What about auditors?

WSAS is establishing a network of highly trained auditors to ensure excellence in service delivery under the new assurance model. During this transition process, we will be taking steps to provide advanced training for auditors, aiming to maximise the quality and consistency of auditing against the AWS Standard.

Will the certification process change?

Just like in the current system, WSAS will follow the processes for audits and certification as established in the AWS Certification Requirements. A new IT platform will enable a consistent and efficient certification process across all sites. Sites seeking certification will be given access to the IT platform and guidance on its use.

How will integrity be maintained?

Independent certification will remain a central pillar of our approach to assurance. WSAS will operate in full compliance with the ISEAL Assurance Code and aims to achieve accreditation to ISO 17065 as early as possible. Adherence to these codes and standards will ensure that WSAS meets the recognised best practice for certification processes. Clear rules will stipulate that neither AWS International (as the standard-setting body) nor the WSAS Board will participate in certification decisions.

In addition, WSAS will include an independent Certification Advisory Committee tasked with providing advice and recommendations on:

  • Certification processes implemented by WSAS, following regular assessments
  • Ensuring the impartiality of WSAS certification processes
  • Individual certification decisions for which the WSAS Director considers independent advice is needed

What will the cost of certification be?

As a mission-driven organisation, WSAS has a key role to play in ensuring AWS certification is accessible and keeping costs reasonable is a clear factor in this. At present, there is wide variability in the cost of AWS certification. WSAS will aim to achieve greater consistency and transparency in pricing and to ensure its pricing structure enables certification to be available to the widest spectrum of users.

Under WSAS, pricing will be aligned to our mission and the AWS strategic goals and the costs for clients will take into account both the complexities of the site and the level of certification it wishes to achieve. Quotations will be available from 1 October 2021.

How will WSAS be governed?

Governance arrangements for WSAS have been defined to meet two core objectives:

  • AWS Assurance is implemented to the highest standard and in full compliance with AWS System requirements, defined by the Technical Committee
  • AWS Assurance is fully aligned to the mission of AWS

To achieve this, WSAS will be governed by a Board of Directors. The WSAS Board will comprise five members. Three members will be independent. This enables WSAS to operate effectively as a legal entity while maintaining the oversight and mission focus needed as a subsidiary of AWS International.

The WSAS Board Chair will be independent with other independent positions representing specific functional expertise.

How does WSAS relate to the governance of the AWS System as a whole?

The AWS International Board is responsible for appointing all members of the WSAS Board to match skills and capabilities identified as a priority for the effective running of WSAS. Independent members will be recruited through an open application process, using criteria agreed by the AWS International Board.

WSAS will have a majority independent board that will receive a mandate from the AWS Board under which it will operate. This mandate will include both technical requirements (as defined by the TC) and ‘mission requirements’ – what it requires of WSAS to enable it to contribute to the AWS mission.

Crucially, the mandate will clearly stipulate that neither the AWS Board nor the Board of WSAS can be involved in certification decisions.

I have another question, who should I contact?

If you have any further questions, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with our Head of Certification (Interim) Lisa Seufert, via the contact form below.

Contact

We will be regularly updating this page, so please check here for the latest information on our new Assurance Model. Alternatively, please sign up for the AWS newsletter.

For more information and guidance, or to have a confidential discussion with our staff, please contact Water Stewardship Assurances (WSAS) using the form below.

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