Setting the standard on water

Exploring the meaning behind DS Smith’s zero water impact by 2030 sustainability target and what it means practically for our stakeholders.

Surface of the planet covered by water


Why is water important?

Over 70 per cent of the planet is covered by water. Yet, water is not always readily available. Some countries experience water stress and droughts, whilst others have too much water and experience flooding. This is something that we are all familiar with across the world and, worryingly, the risks imposed from water are likely become worse with a growing global population and climate change.


Water is crucial for most manufacturing industries, from being the primary resource for the beverage industry, to being a key element of heating and cooling operations. As we consume more products and services, companies have to make water go further.

Emma Ciechan, Director of Planning, Performance Management & Sustainability says:

Percentage of the water we use that is treated and returned to the water course


Water is an increasingly precious resource and we must do our bit to manage our use responsibly. Not only is this important for our own operations, but also for investors and insurance providers. It is crucial for them to understand the impact of businesses on local water sources and their exposure to future water risks

At DS Smith, water plays a critical role in our paper production process. Over 80 per cent of the water we extract for our own purposes is returned to be treated via our own or municipal effluent treatment and returned to the water course thus minimising the overall impact. The remaining water is lost by evaporation during the paper making process or through starch dilution.

What is zero water impact?

At DS Smith, we have developed a vision of zero water impact. Put in its simplest terms, we define this as;

  • Not using any more water than we need to in our production processes
  • Managing water quality and discharge through treatment and legal compliance
  • Considering and managing our use in areas of current or future water stress

These three elements have always been part of our licence to operate and our operational excellence programme. However for the first time in June 2018, we publicly committed to these objectives as part of our nine new sustainability targets:

Optimum level of water consumption per tonne of production of recycled paper


  • Achieve zero water impact by 2030.

Read our Sustainability Review 2018 to find out more about our other eight targets.

Our action plan

1. Water Efficiency

Based on industry benchmarks, we have identified an optimum level of water use of 6.5m3/tonne of production for recycled paper mills. Over the next 12 years we will be working to ensure all mills perform at or below this optimum level. DS Smith’s Lucca mill in Italy and Witzenhausen mill in Germany are good performers in this area.

 As we continue to acquire kraftliner mills, such as through the acquisition of Interstate Resources, we will determine the appropriate benchmark for water consumption here.   

2. Water Quality

The minimum standard for all our sites, particularly our paper mills, is to operate in conformance with discharge consents set by local environmental regulators. This is also the minimum we expect from all our suppliers. Activity will be focussed on underperforming sites and new acquisitions, but does not limit sites which are already going beyond minimum water quality requirements.

3. Water Stress

We must plan for potential future scenarios of increasing water scarcity, linked to the pressures of climate change and population growth. After conducting a global water stress risk assessment on all 250+ sites using the Water Resources Institute (WRI) methodology, we will develop mitigation plans for sites in water stressed regions.

Martin Mead, Head of Energy Efficiency comments:

The important factors are that we control our water consumption, aim to optimise at the target and that we return the majority of the water to the water course within consent limits. There is a delicate balance to be maintained. Reducing water consumption will initially save energy, but aiming too low could also create chemistry issues and reduce overall operational efficiency

Investment, risk and customer needs met

DS Smith cannot influence the risk of unexpected water related events taking place. However by meeting these goals by 2030 we can reduce our environmental impact on natural ecosystems and improve the resilience of our businesses to ensure we are able to maintain continuity of supply should those events occur. This is crucial in ensuring on time and in full delivery of packaging to some of the largest brands in the world.

Paper mills across Europe