Conserving water, wherever, whenever, however

The Broader Context

Water is our most critical natural capital. Of the water on the planet, 2.5% is fresh water, with less than 1% available to feed all living organisms¹. And from this, 70% is used for agriculture. Fresh water is arguably the most undervalued resource on the planet.

And yet water scarcity affects countries on every continent. The United Nations estimates that up to 1.2 billion people live in areas with water scarcity, and 500 million more people are approaching this situation. They also estimate that around 1.6 billion people live in countries which do not have the infrastructure needed to take water from rivers and aquifers to benefit their population.

However, water use is growing, driven by a rising population, expanding industrialization, and greater agricultural needs. Globally, we are witnessing an increase in both the number and frequency of droughts and floods, directly attributable to climate change². As well as impacting natural and economic resources, these events also have a profound impact on people all over the world.

For that reason, water is identified as one of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG6), aiming to ensure the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.

For LW/M, the greatest water risk to our own assets is posed by flooding. However, both heavy rain fall or flooding, as well as droughts, impact our supply chain (see Sustainable Agriculture chapter for more information).

[1] According to the United Nations
[2] According to the WHO

While there are solutions to overcome drought conditions, for example through (drip) irrigation, potatoes begin to rot if they are submerged for longer than 72 hours. And for our production facilities, the risk from flooding is actual and real, and can even be caused by very heavy rainfall.

In water scarce areas, water for irrigation and drinking compete, forcing governments to amend water pricing policies and restrict allowances. We believe the cost of water in many parts of the world does not reflect the true value of water.

The actual price of water in the countries in which we are active does not help to build a business case – create conditions to invest in technologies with realistic payback times – to conserve water.

The content of this chapter will focus primarily on water use in our plants, while water efficiency measures to grow potatoes are covered in the Sustainable Agriculture chapter.


Our 2020 objective is to reduce our direct water use per tonne of finished product by 50% and to improve the quality of our processed water. Additionally, we will reduce our blue water footprint³ in water stressed areas.

[3] Please note that our water footprint relates to fresh water consumption only.

‘It’s clear that LW/M is not only addressing water use internally, they are also focusing on the importance of water use among companies. I respect that they have started this discussion at a governmental level and are actively looking for new knowledge to solve the water challenges. The company has put the topic on the agenda of policy makers, and that was missing. They are also looking at water stewardship along the supply chain. It can be difficult to address water usage beyond company boundaries, and this is why it’s vital that we have a strong connection between businesses in the supply chain, knowledge institutes, and regulatory authorities. Water remains undervalued and underpriced, so we need to find ways to motivate companies to conserve more whenever possible.’

Ivo Demmers
Head of Sustainable Water Management Programme
Wageningen Environmental Sciences, WUR
Wageningen, the Netherlands

‘Within the UK, water availability is a very important topic. This was never more so than it was in the summer of 2018, when we had over two months with negligible rain across our growing areas. Any tool we can use to manage water, reduce our water footprint, and ensure we maintain a reliable supply is crucial. Our research shows that drip irrigation enables us to produce the same amount of potatoes using two-thirds of the water, when compared to overhead rain guns. We currently have 300 hectares using drip irrigation in the UK, and our growers are increasingly interested in the technology as they witness the positive impact it has. We are working on rolling drip irrigation out across our grower base, and we are quietly confident that there will be a greater uptake going forward, based on the strong results and overwhelmingly positive experiences of our growers.’
John Sedgwick
Potato Manager
LW/M Wisbech
Wisbech, United Kingdom

‘We are implementing the Innowater project at the plant in Kruiningen and it will help us reduce our water intake by 50 percent. The next step is to look for ways to reduce water usage of the different processes across the plant. One example is the installation of a Pulsed Electric Field (PEF) on our main line in Kruiningen, replacing the traditional 'preheating' of potatoes. Implementing PEF will enable us to further reduce our water needs, so that we not only cut our water intake, we also further cut water usage.’  

Michel de Lepper
Director Frozen Operations
LW/M Frozen Operations
Kruiningen, the Netherlands

‘In 2017 we began an initiative at our Hollabrunn plant to reduce water usage. The first step was to identify leaks within the plant’s systems, and ensure the water meters were calculating our water usage accurately. The second step was to raise awareness among staff. For example, we saw that we continued to consume a substantial amount of water during the weekend stop, which is when we stop production to carry out cleaning and repairs. By controlling the zero load we were able to reduce the overall water consumption substantially without influencing food safety or hygiene. Together, these steps helped us reduce our water consumption by 5 percent over the year. Going forward, our next steps will be to identify where we waste water in our machinery installation.´
Guenther Deufl
Continuous Improvement Specialist
LW/M Hollabrunn
Hollabrunn, Austria

2018 Results versus 2008 baseline

  • Direct water use reduced by 3.8% per tonne of finished product
  • 300 Ha. of potatoes grown on drip irrigation in water stressed areas

Note: Hollabrunn and Broekhuizenvorst are the only plants where we withdraw ground water in addition to using municipal water. In 2018, the ground water use was 7.5% of our total water consumption.

Key Results 2017 – 2018

While we remain committed to our 2020 target, we recognise that we will not reach it in time. We have decided, therefore, to extend the deadline of achieving our goal to half our water use per ton of finished product produced to 2023. We believe this will enable us to implement the needed projects that will sufficiently reduce our water use and achieve our targets.


Innowater is the name we use for the advanced wastewater treatment system that purifies our process wastewater to meet legal potable water standards. The water can then be safely reused in our production processes as food contact material.

Following a successful trial period, our goal was to implement innowater at two of our plants in the period under review. This did not happen fully for valid reasons, including a delay in a supported business case for the investments, with commitment from all internal stakeholders.

What are the next steps?
While we still have to solve a number of operational issues relating to wastewater treatment, we have taken measures to ensure that we learn from our experiences. For example:

We added additional staff at our head office, dedicated to wastewater treatment, in addition to the person responsible for this at each factory. This creates stronger oversight and management, increased knowledge and best practices sharing, and enables us to realise the innowater projects according to our new time schedule.

  • We have re-developed our implementation plan, focusing on circular water management and not only reusing the effluent, but also better cascading our water flows. We are working with a team of corporate and plant specialists to create stronger oversight and management of our goal of sharing best practices more actively.
  • We are preparing to have the Innowater system online at our facilities by the end of 2023.

Key takeaway
The Innowater project has been an important learning experience. It has underlined just how important a stable running wastewater treatment is, being a prerequisite for implementing the innowater purification system. It also confirmed the value of our effluent, and it has enabled us to better plan for the future.

We believe a few years delay is far preferable to the alternative: attempting to implement a project that would have ultimately failed. With both fresh water and wastewater being key issues, natural resources should not be wasted, especially when we believe we will face more frequent droughts in the near future where we operate.

Implementing WEE (Water, Energy, and Environmental) Teams

For a number of years, we have operated an energy team on each plant, which focused on improving the company’s energy performance and supporting our sustainability goals. We now fully integrated water and environment goals into these teams, creating Water, Energy, and Environmental (WEE) teams.

Every plant has its own WEE team and these teams share best practices and benchmark plant performances. The WEE team is composed of multiple stakeholders, including plant manager, operational managers, and environmental specialists. They meet regularly to discuss progress from projects already underway, share best practices, and look for opportunities to implement energy and water saving measures across the company. Recurring agenda points include local environmental issues, future projects to capture management attention at an early stage, and building in effective solutions in the design phase.

We introduced water in the WEE teams, with the goal of cutting water usage in our plants. Since this integration, they have proven to be highly effective. Water topics can now be discussed directly, with short communication lines. This means progress can be made quickly. The team also acts as an open forum, where challenges can be shared and solved together.

The WEE teams have taken a number of relevant steps to improve our water usage.

  • The teams introduced a water road map in 2018, starting with the development of a water (mass) balance. This helps us to identify and chart areas where we could increase the efficiency of our water usage for processing.
  • We began making the roof condensers for the freezing system chemical free. We are rolling this out across all our plants. This system reduced our water use to flush condensers.
  • During FY 2018, we reduced our water intensity by 3.8% (water/tonne finished product).

Our goal for the WEE teams is for them to contribute to our overall direct water consumption reduction of 10% within three years, excluding the effect of the Innowater project implementation. We will provide a progress update in the next report.

Chemical-free water cooling treatment

In 2016 and 2017 we installed state-of-the-art, chemical-free cooling condensers at our Bergen op Zoom plant, both at the new Premium Product Line and the existing line. The system prevents scaling on the cooling pipes, resulting in a cost effective and environmentally friendly water conditioning system. As well as saving water and energy, the new condensers also last longer and eliminate the use of chemicals, cutting our total chemical costs.

Drip irrigation

We continued to study the viability of drip irrigation systems. The main benefit of such a system is that farmers can accurately, and regularly, get water and nutrients to the roots of the potato plant, through a network of irrigation lines. This results in increased water efficiency compared to classic irrigation methods, such as rain guns.

During drip irrigation trials, we carried out in the UK in 2016, we saw increased potato yields of 5-10% compared to classic methods. We also saw an improvement in crop quality consistency using the same amount of water.

With drip irrigation, we need less land and water to produce the same amount of potatoes. However, the results showed that in most areas drip irrigation benefits do not compensate for the additional costs of leasing and installing the system.

So, when does drip irrigation make sense? We believe that drip irrigation is viable when certain criteria are met. These include:

  • In water-scarce areas with limited water availability, such as the UK.
  • For fields that are small and irregularly shaped, which we typically come across in the Netherlands and Austria.
  • If growers are looking for consistency, security, and peace of mind; Rain guns need to be moved frequently, while drip irrigation systems are placed in the field and can be started at the push of a button.

We now have a business case for drip irrigation in the UK, where we have 300 hectares using the system (up from 250 hectares in 2016). Our goal is to increase water efficiency, while making more land irrigable, leading to higher crop yields and more consistent quality. We stimulate drip irrigation among our growers and actively share best practices with them.

Drip irrigation is also relevant to our Sustainable Agriculture Plan, given that potato growing makes up 43% of the blue water footprint of our products. More information on this can be found in the Sustainable Agriculture chapter. In future sustainability reports, we will report on our water use for growing under this newly-created chapter.

Outlook for 2019/2020

Our main goal during this period will be to successfully implement Innowater across three of our plants. At our Kruiningen plant we expect Innowater to go live in the first quarter of 2019. We expect the new system to treat 65% of our wastewater, resulting in a ≥50% reduction of our future fresh water intake. The other two plants will go live during the course of 2020.

Key challenges

We have extended our water intensity objective date from 2020 to 2023 for direct water use per tonne of finished product. Accomplishing this remains a challenge, due to the economic viability of investments with the current water price, the relatively new technology, and the knowledge needed to apply this technology on an industrial scale. However, we believe that by remaining focused and committed, we will be able to reach our targets.

In terms of our main projects, implementing the Innowater system is the most challenging. However, we also need to better understand how water impacts our product quality, and where we can automate the flow and make cascades to reuse water flows in our process.