Ashanti Programme - A child fetching water at the standpipe

Water Security

Water is precious to all life on earth. Water is essential for the secure future. Water security is a priority for Co-op. Water represents a material risk in food supply chains – 72% of all water withdrawals are used for agriculture and yet 52% of the world’s population will live in water-stressed regions by 2050. In 2023 it was predicted that global freshwater demand will outstrip supply by 40% by 2030.

We believe that investing in water security – sustainable, resilient water resources and services – is the best way to address climate vulnerability and inequalities and reduce the effects of climate change.

For years we’ve invested above and beyond 0.7% of our pre-tax profit in international development projects and it’s a principle we’re committed to upholding for the years to come. Our pioneering water security donations with our partners The One Foundation and Water Unite contribute to this commitment.

We donate 3p per litre to water projects across the globe for every Co-op branded still, sparkling and flavoured water sold. We raise 1p per litre for all other water bottles sold. Mixers (including tonic and soda water) are excluded.

To date we’ve raised over £22 million with our partners The One Foundation and Water Unite since 2007, changing the lives of more than 3 million people across the globe through clean water, hygiene, sanitation, water pollution and circular economy projects.

We are also founding supporters of WRAP’s Roadmap towards Water Security for Food & Drink Supplies, working collaboratively to improve water stewardship. Read more below.

The One Foundation

Working in partnership with The One Foundation – our charity partner - Co-op has spent more than 15 years investing in clean water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) projects around the world. We raise donations through sales of Co-op own label bottled water to support projects WASH solutions to some of the world’s communities living in the most extreme poverty, donating over £20 million and changing the lives of more than 3 million people since 2007.

  • 50% of the donation is ringfenced for Fairtrade producer communities, funding WASH programmes in our Fairtrade cocoa, sugar, tea and flower growing communities
  • 40% is ringfenced for The One Foundation priority programmes
  • 10% is ringfenced to enable us to provide direct emergency support through partners of the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC). We’ve now donated over £1.5m towards the efforts to respond to crises ranging from famines, war and viruses through to natural disasters such as droughts, earthquakes, hurricanes, cyclones and flooding.

Our Future of Food commitment to clean water for all remains at the heart of our fight against water poverty.

In 2021 as part of our Global Wellbeing Charter, we repurposed £647,000 of funding to clean water and sanitation projects to help tackle the spread and impact of COVID-19. This supported Fairtrade communities in Ghana and Malawi.

Read more about The One Foundation and watch this video on how The One Foundation changes lives

Water stations in Fairtrade Banana communities with The One Foundation

Over the last seven years, Co-op and The One Foundation have been working with Co-op’s Fairtrade banana producer communities in the Volta region of Ghana to develop locally owned and managed water stations. The six water stations that Co-op have funded within their Banana Producer communities are providing over 14,000 people with safe, clean water - piping out water over a combined distance of 35kms and directly into 461 homes. These water stations are supporting people like Julius.

Life was so difficult in terms of water. A lot of school children were going to school late, they can now go to school very early because of safe water.

Health is one of the issues that concerns us. So, when you get clean, safe water it will help you overcome ill health issues, like waterborne diseases. This water is good for us.

It was not a difficult process. You take your card to be identified with, you register your money for the connection and the rest was done. You have done well bringing safe water into our community”.

Julius, School Teacher, Volta Region (pictured).

Water Unite

We also are pioneering partners for Water Unite, and, together with our branded suppliers, our funding has helped support innovative local entrepreneurs working to tackle water, sanitation, and plastic waste issues in developing countries across Africa and Asia.

In April 2017, we signed up as pioneer partners to Water Unite (Global Investment Fund for Water), so now every branded bottled water that we sell contributes 1p per litre to the fund, which aims to end water poverty globally by 2030.

Water Unite uses an innovative funding model to leverage investment in the systems needed to keep clean water flowing, and to tackle plastic pollution. Together with our branded water suppliers over £3.4million has been raised since 2017.

Together with Co-op water, every bottle of water bought in a Co-op helps to support clean water, hygiene, sanitation and water pollution projects across the world. So, when you buy water from Co-op, feel proud. Read more about Water Unite

Read more about Water Unite.

Waste into value with Water Unite

Significantly more Kenyans have access to safe drinking water (59%) than to basic sanitation (29%). Since 2000, access to safe drinking water has increased by 12%, while access to basic sanitation has fallen by 5%. An estimated five million people practice open defecation and only 25% have hand-washing facilities with soap and water at home.

To address this crisis, Sanivation partners with local utilities and governments to deploy sustainable sanitation solutions and solve complex societal sanitation challenges using a circular economy approach. Through developing treatment plants across East Africa, they are able to meet the increased demand for waste management which cannot be managed by existing urban infrastructure which is typically underfunded. By processing the waste into a solid fuel or briquette, they have provided a low carbon, affordable, bioenergy end product whilst simultaneously managing waste which may have otherwise resulted in the spread of diseases.

In 2022, Sanivation helped to serve 52,675 people by safely managing 995 tonnes of faecal sludge and selling 882.7 tonnes of briquettes. This has saved the equivalent of 1,645 tonnes of CO2 and 18,075 trees.

Co-op and Water Unite have allowed us to partner with new local governments and take an innovation that allows cities to be clean, healthy and productive to new locations, and be able to ensure that waste is being treated properly.” - Andrew Foote, Co-founder of Sanivation

Tackling plastic pollution and providing water security for communities with Water Unite

At the Co-op we are committed to being part of the solution to plastic pollution worldwide. With our partner Water Unite we have supported the Gjenge Makers project in Kenya, which converts plastic waste into an affording housing material. The project was awarded the Young Champions of the Earth Award by the UN Environment Programme.

Eveline's story

Eveline operates a milk vending business in Githogoro, an informal settlement in Nairobi, Kenya. Until recently, Eveline depended on informal water vendors or unreliable water points for water. These would often be closed without warning, forcing her to fetch water from other sources which were very far from her shop.

Her business requires at least 10 jerry cans of water a day for the cleaning of the dispensing machine and containers. This was costing Eveline 100 Kenyan Shillings (Kes) per day, which for a small business was very expensive.

As one of the beneficiaries of the newly pre-paid water dispensers installed in Githogoro, Eveline now has access to a reliable, affordable clean water supply, which is crucial to the success of her business.

“Since I started using the pre-paid water dispensers, my business is able to save about Kes 1500 per month. This has helped me increase the stock for my shop and I am able to sell other things in addition to milk. The water is just across the street from my shop, it’s treated and I do not fear contaminating my milk equipment. With just Kes 20, I have a whole week’s supply of water and previously this was not even enough for one day”. Eveline - Nairobi, Kenya

Water Security for People and Planet

We’ve long campaigned on climate and justice issues. The climate crisis is making the issue of water security much more acute. We see this as an urgent matter of climate justice. That’s why our CEO, Shirine Khoury-Haq, launched our Water Security for People & Planet report whilst addressing an event that took place at COP-27 in November 2022.

Our report brings together a series of recommendations for governments, businesses, and citizens. We believe that investing in water security — by which we mean sustainable, resilient water resources and services – is the best way to address climate vulnerability and inequalities, and reduce the effects of climate change to allow communities, nature, and economies to thrive. Our view is clear: we must take urgent action to address the climate crisis, and water security is the most fundamental building block.

WRAP Water Roadmap commitments

We are founding supporters of WRAP’s Roadmap towards Water Security for Food & Drink Supply, which gives us a way of working collaboratively with our peers, our suppliers and with local delivery bodies in the most water-stressed areas from which we source our products and ingredients.

Together, our aim is to help achieve sustainable water management to improve the quality and availability of water at catchment scale in the top 20 most important product and ingredient sourcing areas in the UK and overseas, with an overall target by 2030 that 50% of the UK’s fresh food is sourced from areas with sustainable water management. To help achieve this, our role as a food & drink retailer is in committing to take action and becoming good water stewards. This means:

Monitoring water use in our own operations and improving efficiency.

  • Identifying water risk hotspots in our supply chain (using the 3 lenses described throughout this report: water scarcity, access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene, and water pollution).
  • Supporting collective action water stewardship projects in strategically important sourcing areas.
  • Identifying suppliers operating in high water stress areas and encouraging them to engage with water stewardship initiatives in their local catchment.
  • Using our influence to advocate for better water governance.

This collective approach is critical because together we can achieve much more than we can individually, and because water is a shared resource - so no single user can tackle water scarcity issues alone. In 2023, Co-op working with WWF and WRAP, alongside signatories to WWF’s Retailers’ Commitment for Nature (WWF Basket), agreed to a series of Water Leadership Actions and associated funding contributions intended to drive progress towards the milestones set out in the Courtauld Water Roadmap, and to catalyse other organisations across the food and drink sector to also act, fund and support delivery of the Roadmap.

By having a stewardship focus in defined areas we believe we can make a meaningful difference, and this will form an important contribution towards UN Sustainable Development Goal 6 – to ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.