Only about 2.5% of the world’s water is ‘freshwater’ and less than a third of this is readily accessible to humans. It has been estimated that approximately 18% of the world population do not have access to safe drinking water. With the expected population growth, world economic growth and the rise in the standards of living in developing countries there will be increasing demands on water as a resource. In addition the predicted impacts of climate change, such as severe storms, flooding and droughts will affect the availability of freshwater. It has been estimated that by 2025 a third of the world’s population will live in water stressed areas. Water stress is said to occur when annual water supplies drop below 1,700 m³ per person. When annual water supplies drop below 1,000 m³ per person, the population faces ‘water scarcity’, and below 500 m3 ‘absolute scarcity’. The United Nations have further useful information which is available on their website.

In a similar way that products have a carbon footprint, products also have a water footprint. Water is used in manufacturing processes, either as part of the process or for heating, cooling and cleaning. There are risks and challenges facing industries associated with water. These include physical risks; such as the lack of availability of water, too much water (flooding) or water that is unfit to use.

Water is also becoming a key reputational and investor relations issue. In 2010 the Carbon Disclosure project launched the Water Disclosure Initiative which highlights investment risks and opportunities for major global companies.

AstraZeneca recognises the need to use water responsibly and where possible to minimise the use of water in our facilities especially in countries classified as having ‘high’ or ‘medium’ water stress by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

Our approach

All of our facilities use water and subsequently discharge wastewater that is either treated on site or discharged to the local municipality for treatment. We measure the total water volume used, volume discharged and the pollutant load that our effluents place on the aquatic environment.

Third parties manufacture selected intermediates and active pharmaceutical ingredients on our behalf. Since 2005 we have been working with over thirty of our outsourcing partners to measure the environmental impact of this manufacturing activity. The measures selected were waste production and CO₂emissions from energy use. In 2010 we extended these measures to include water. In 2012 we continued to collect data to understand the amount of water that is used in the manufacturing of these materials and identifying opportunities for reduced use. Read more about our approach to outsourced manufacture.

Objectives and targets

We have introduced a company-wide water reduction target: to reduce absolute water use by 25% by the end of 2015 compared to the 2010 baseline data. To help to achieve the 2015 target all of our manufacturing and R&D sites that use significant quantities of water or are located in a water stressed area have water conservation plans in place. These plans identify opportunities to reduce and conserve water. Additionally we have formed a Global Energy, CO₂and Water Steering Committee and two regional teams (EU and North America) to facilitate energy, CO₂and water reduction.


We are committed to transparency and constructive engagement on this topic. As part of this, we make detailed reports available through our Annual Report and this Responsibility section of our website, through disclosure to the Carbon Disclosure Project Water. We follow the G3 Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) to enhance the relevance and transparency of our reporting to our stakeholders.

Our performance

Click here for the latest information about our performance in this area.

What's next in this section

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Did you know?

We have a global Safety, Health and Environment (SHE) function dedicated to leading, managing and monitoring our commitment to managing our environmental impact and to promoting the safety, health and wellbeing of our employees. Read more about: