Special Report: BASF recognised as global leader in sustainable water management

Water is of fundamental importance in chemical production. It is used as a coolant, solvent and cleaning agent, as well as to make products. The sustainable use of water and worldwide conservation of natural water resources are key to BASF.

BASF SE, with its main site in Ludwigshafen, is the heart of the BASF Group.
BASF SE, with its main site in Ludwigshafen, is the heart of the BASF Group.

Worldwide, water is becoming an increasingly scarce resource. One of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the United Nations and one of BASF’s focus topics is ‘Ensure access to water and sanitation for all’.

BASF contributes to this goal through its water stewardship strategy to efficiently use water and to develop specific sustainable solutions for local water situations. In addition, BASF provides solutions to customers that help purify water and use it more efficiently while minimising pollution.

In recognition of its actions to manage water more sustainably, BASF has been again acknowledged as a global leader in sustainable water management. CDP, a highly recognised international non-profit organisation, awarded BASF with a top position on this year’s ‘Water A List’. CDP works with investors representing assets of over $100tn.

Water is of fundamental importance in chemical production. It is used as a coolant, solvent and cleaning agent, as well as to make the products from BASF. BASF is committed to its responsible use along the entire value chain and especially in its production sites’ water catchment areas. BASF has set itself a global goal for sustainable water management.

Sustainable water management

BASF aims to use water as sparingly as possible and further reduce emissions to water. To do so, the company has set out a Group directive with globally applicable standards.

BASF is introducing sustainable water management at all relevant production sites. These include its major Verbund sites as well as the sites in water-stress areas, or regions in which more than 60% of available water is used by industry, household and agriculture. The company considers the quantitative, qualitative and social aspects of water use. BASF wants to identify where it can improve at its sites, and use as little water as possible, especially in water-stress areas.

Together with the city of Guaratinguetá, Brazil, and the Fundação Espaço ECO®, BASF is engaged in the restoration of the local river basin at its site in Guaratinguetá, Brazil, which provides 90% of the local population’s water supply. These efforts aim to improve water quality and increase its availability.

In order to ensure transparency in BASF’s reporting on water, it once again took part in CDP reporting in 2016. According to CDP, BASF is a world leader in sustainable water management and was included for the first time in CDP’s ‘Water A List’. Of the 607 companies evaluated, only 24 of them received the top score of ‘A’ – among them, BASF.

CDP’s evaluation of sustainable water management includes how transparently companies report on their water management activities and what they do to reduce risks, such as water scarcity. CDP also assesses the extent to which product developments – even at the customers of the companies under evaluation – can contribute to sustainable water management.

Global goal

By 2025, BASF wants to introduce sustainable water management at all sites in water stress areas and at its Verbund sites, covering 93% of BASF’s entire water abstraction. The company achieved 42.6% of this goal in 2016.

BASF pursues its goal by applying the European Water Stewardship standard, which rests on four principles – sustainable water abstraction, maintaining good water quality, preserving conservation areas, and ensuring continuous improvement processes, including in cooperation with other users.

In 2016, around 23% of BASF production sites were located in water-stress areas. Around 1% of BASF’s total water supply was abstracted from these sites.

Using water responsibly

BASF’s water usage totalled 1,649 million cubic metres in 2016. This demand was covered for the most part by surface water, such as rivers and lakes. At some sites, BASF uses alternative sources such as treated municipal wastewater, brackish water or seawater, reducing its need for freshwater.

BASF predominantly uses water for cooling purposes (85%), after which the company recirculates it back to its supply sources. The company recirculates as much water as possible in order to withdraw less.

BASF’s larger sites have recooling plants that allow water to be reused several times and which reduce the temperature of used cooling water before it is discharged back into a body of water.

The supply, treatment, transportation and recooling of water is associated with a considerable energy demand. BASF employs various means in its efforts to minimise this as much as possible. The company is constantly working to optimise its energy consumption and the amount of water it uses, and to adapt to the needs of its business and the environment.

Emissions to water

A total of 1,644 million cubic metres of water were discharged from BASF production sites in 2016, including 184 million cubic metres of wastewater from production. Emissions of nitrogen to water amounted to 2,900 metric tonnes (2015: 3,000 metric tonnes).

BASF was able to achieve this improvement by optimising processes and exchanging products, for example. Around 15,900 metric tonnes of organic substances were emitted in wastewater (2015: 17,300 metric tonnes). BASF’s wastewater contained 23 metric tonnes of heavy metals (2015: 25 metric tonnes).

Phosphorus emissions amounted to 310 metric tonnes (2015: 460 metric tonnes). BASF’s wastewater is treated through different methods depending on the type and degree of contamination – including biological processes, oxidation, membrane technologies, precipitation or adsorption.

In order to avoid unanticipated emissions and the pollution of surface or groundwater, BASF creates water protection strategies for its production sites. This is mandatory for all production plants as part of the Responsible Care initiative. The wastewater protection plans involve evaluating wastewater in terms of risk and drawing up suitable monitoring approaches. BASF uses audits to check that these measures are being implemented and complied with.

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