Towards a soft path for water in the food and drink industry

  • Diana Catalina Silva Plata

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Water is vital for all human and environmental activities. Climate change, population growth and consuming trends pose major uncertainties to the future availability of this resource. The soft path for water concept was first proposed as a paradigm shift in water management. This idea focuses on the sustainable delivery and use of water-related services matched to the needs of end users, rather than seeking sources of new supply. The concept was initially conceived as a way for governments and societies to embed water sustainability principles in their policies. Food is considered one of the most water intensive areas in society and businesses from this sector need to strive for reducing their impact on water resources. However, a proposition of a soft path for water for the food industry has not been done so far. The objective of this research was to investigate a way in which corporations in the food sector can embed soft path principles. Based on a consultation with experts along with the review of literature, a framework consisting of five principles and 21 indicators was developed to evaluate the adoption of the soft path for water in the food sector. These principles are grounded on the three aspects of sustainability that involve the environment, society and economy. The proposed framework was used to assess the water strategies of a sample of 67 companies in the food sector who are already committed to the reduction of water impacts through the Federation House Commitment. This entailed the content analysis of 89 publicly available documents, 12 questionnaires and eight interviews. The obtained results indicate some level of implementation of the five principles as evidence of their adoption was found in the miinority of the evaluated sample. The majority of the sample presented a lack of implementation or an absence of evidence in the gathered data. Companies' efforts appear to be mostly centred on their internal efficiency spectrum. Aspects related to the reduction of water impacts in their supply chains, the understanding of water environmental limits or the engagement with society for protecting the human right to water are not yet a common practice. Results suggest that there is still a long way to go towards a soft path for water in the food sector. It was also highlighted the need for better reporting and data disclosure from businesses.
Date of Award13 Jun 2015
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University Of Strathclyde
SupervisorElsa João (Supervisor) & Charles Knapp (Supervisor)

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