Water stewardship

What is water stewardship at AstraZeneca?

Water is vital to life on earth. Working in partnership with our stakeholders, we are committed to adopting water stewardship practices, making positive contributions to address shared water challenges in the river basins where we operate.

Our business requires access to clean and plentiful water for the development and manufacture of life-changing medicines. From the production of raw materials to manufacturing processes, including cooling and equipment cleaning, through to patient use, freshwater is used across our value chain.

Our approach

We recognise that our operations can have adverse impacts on water resources. To minimise these impacts and to use water responsibly, we have initiatives across our business which aim to protect this natural resource for our business, our employees, local communities, and the ecosystems on which they depend:

  • Across AstraZeneca sites: Decoupling water demand from business growth with our 2015–2025 water efficiency key performance indicators; working to link performance targets with the local context by setting site-specific water targets
  • In drug development: Adopting Resource Efficiency Targets to reduce the water demand in drug development; conducting Life Cycle assessments (LCAs) to calculate the water footprint across the whole product life cycle including the raw materials used to make the drug substance. See more in Product environmental stewardship
  • Maintaining Water Quality: Preventing pollution by applying, monitoring, and reporting compliance against safe discharge limits for Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (APIs) produced or formulated by our manufacturing operations; ensuring water quality is not compromised through patient use of products through environmental risk assessments and reporting via our EcoPharmacoVigilence Dashboard. See more in Pharmaceuticals in the environment (PIE)
  • In our supply chain: Applying the same approach for safe discharge limits across our supply chain to prevent pollution from our API suppliers; implementing a Supplier Sustainability Framework
  • In the communities where we operate: Developing partnerships to drive collective action in the river basins where we operate

Our longer-term ambition is to implement Science-Based Targets for Water in strategically relevant locations, once a global methodology is available. Science-based targets will enable us to drive a progressive agenda for water stewardship across the pharmaceutical and healthcare sector, while demonstrating how we contribute towards the sustainability of the river basins in which we operate.

Supporting these efforts is the WWF Water Risk Filter tool, which identifies and evaluates water risks around the world. Using the WWF methodology, we are broadening our understanding of our water-related risks and identifying areas for investment across our value chain.

Diagnosing current and future water risks facing the pharmaceutical sector

Through our continued collaboration with the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Sweden, we championed a sector-level water risk assessment of the global pharmaceutical supply chain. The assessment recommended the following water stewardship opportunities:

  • Lead with stewardship rather than management: Adopting water stewardship as the default framing for water better positions companies to engage with others to find solutions to these external water-related risks.
  • Enhance the sector’s strategic water focus on quality: Considering the pharmaceutical value chain and where geographic hotspots are located, water quality appears to be the dominant contextual and strategically relevant water issue for the sector rather than water scarcity.
  • Strategically address water quality more comprehensively across the value chain: Deteriorating global water quality could bring public expectation for action on APIs in the environment, regardless of their source.
  • Understand raw material water-related risks: While the quantities of raw materials used in pharmaceutical manufacturing are perceived to be relatively small, links to water intensive sectors such as mining and agriculture, mean the water-related risks of the raw materials part of the value chain may not be so small.
  • Collectively respond to shared water challenges in priority basins: Shared water challenges represent a potential risk and opportunity for the sector to play a leadership role in finding solutions which create benefits for both the sector and the surrounding communities.
  • Support the enhancement of local water quality regulations: Strengthening water governance structures as we move towards 2050 could mitigate the possible impacts of deteriorating basin water quality risks and the potential for growing regulatory risks.

In 2021, we introduced a water stewardship pilot programme to deepen our understanding of the water risks we face in the basins where we operate, as well as what actions to prioritise to mitigate these risks.

The pilot is focused on efficient water use within the boundaries of our sites, along with water quality and collective action opportunities in the local basin. We are prioritising six key sites in water-scarce areas across five countries, sites which face increasing availability and quality risks.

Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS)

As members of the Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS), we aim to contribute to the sustainability of local water-resources through the adoption and promotion of the International Water Stewardship (AWS) Standard.

In implementing the standard, we are building our understanding of shared water challenges and setting locally-appropriate water targets at key sites. We also aim to strengthen our relationships and build new partnerships with stakeholders within the communities where we operate.

Our stories


Our Water Stewardship strategy is embedded within Natural resources, which is a material focus area under the Environmental Protection pillar of our Sustainability Strategy.

Learn more about Water stewardship in our Sustainability Report.

See the Sustainability Data Summary for all metrics and methodology