Water is of fundamental importance in chemical production. It is used as a coolant, solvent and cleaning agent, to make our products and transport our goods. We are committed to its responsible use along the entire value chain and especially in our production sites’ water catchment areas. We have set ourselves a global target for sustainable water management.

The graphic depicts the different stations along the value chain. The topics in each chapter address the station shown in light blue. (here: BASF, Customers) (graphic)


  • Using water responsibly with sustainable water management

BASF is committed to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. These cover topics such as the responsible use and sustainable management of water (SDG 6). We have defined global standards and processes in our Responsible Care Management System.

Sustainable water management has been a central element of our strategy to use water responsibly for many years. We aim to introduce sustainable water management at all relevant production sites. These include our Verbund sites and sites in water stress areas.1 Our sustainable water management aims to protect water as a resource, continuously improve water use efficiency, and consistently reduce emissions. We consider the quantitative, qualitative and social aspects of water use.

We advocate the responsible use of water as a resource along the entire value chain. We audit supplier compliance with environmental standards in our regular supplier assessments. In addition, we support a wide range of initiatives to promote sustainability in the supply chain. Our Responsible Care Management System and global process and transportation safety standards aim to maintain good water quality and minimize the risk of product spillages into water bodies.

We offer our customers solutions that help purify water and use it more efficiently while minimizing pollution. These include high-performance plastics to produce ultrafiltration membranes, seeds with higher drought and heat tolerance, or water-saving thin-film processes for metal pretreatment. Together with other companies from along the value chain, we are also involved in global initiatives such as the Alliance to End Plastic Waste, the World Plastics Council and Operation Clean Sweep to prevent plastics from entering the environment, especially water bodies.

We report transparently and comprehensively on water. For instance, we again provided detailed answers to the 2020 water survey from the nonprofit organization CDP. In the final assessment, BASF again achieved the top grade of A and thus Leadership status. CDP evaluates how transparently companies report on their water management activities and how they reduce risks such as water scarcity. The assessment also considers the extent to which product developments – including at the customers of the companies being evaluated – can contribute to sustainable water management.

Global target and measures

Our goal is to introduce sustainable water management at our production sites in water stress areas and at our Verbund sites by 2030, covering 93% of BASF’s total water abstraction. We achieved 46.2% of our target in 2020 (2019: 35.8%).2 Sustainable water management was introduced at six sites in 2020 (2019: 8).

2030 target

Introduction of sustainable water management at our production sites in water stress areas and at our Verbund sites

We pursue our 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. In addition, we are a member of the global Alliance for Water Stewardship.

We identify and implement potential for improvement as part of sustainable water management. For instance, we use wastewater from municipal wastewater treatment plants to reduce our freshwater demand at our sites in Tarragona, Spain (since 2013) and Freeport, Texas (since 2019). At the Pontecchio site in Italy, our need for river and groundwater is reduced by the use of rainwater and optimized sludge dewatering, which started up in late 2020. At the Ludwigshafen site in Germany, we have continually optimized cooling water needs over the past few years with technical improvements, most recently in the production of higher carboxylic acids, for example. In addition, the startup of a new recooling plant in 2020 makes the site less dependent on changes in water temperature and water levels on the Rhine. We have also taken numerous measures to secure the supply of raw materials to the site and the transportation of our products by ship on the Rhine River, even in the case of extended periods of low water.

1 We define water stress areas as regions in which more than 40% of available water is used by industry, households and agriculture. Our definition is based on the Water Risk Atlas (Aqueduct 3.0) published by the World Resources Institute. For more information, see wri.org/aqueduct.

2 Our water target also continues to take into account the sites that we identified as water stress sites in accordance with Pfister et al. (2009) prior to 2019.

Water balance

  • Optimizing demand and efficient use

Our water abstraction totaled 1,728 million cubic meters in 2020 (2019: 1,717). This demand was covered for the most part by freshwater such as rivers and lakes (87% of water abstraction). At some sites, we use alternative sources such as treated municipal wastewater, brackish water or seawater. A small part of the water we use reaches our sites as part of raw materials and steam, or is released in our production processes. We abstract most of the water we need for cooling and production ourselves. In 2020, 5% of our total water demand was covered by third parties.

We predominantly use water for cooling purposes (87% of water abstraction), after which we discharge it back to our supply sources. We reduce our demand for cooling water by recirculating as much of it as possible. To do this, we use recooling plants that allow water to be reused several times. Around 13% of our total water abstraction is used in production plants, for example, for extraction or dissolution processes or for cleaning. Most of this water is discharged back to our supply sources after being treated in BASF or third party plants.

The BASF Group’s water consumption describes the amount of water that is not discharged to a supply source, meaning that it is no longer available to other users. Consumption is mainly attributable to the evaporation of water during closed-circuit cooling. A smaller amount is from the water contained in our products. Water consumption in 2020 amounted to around 63 million cubic meters (2019: 61).

In 2020, around 25% of our production sites were located in water stress areas. These sites accounted for 1% of BASF’s total water abstraction (2019: 1%).3 This demand was covered for the most part by freshwater (97%). We mainly source water from third parties (73%). Water consumption in water stress areas accounted for around 11% of our total water consumption (2019: 14%) and was primarily attributable to evaporation in cooling processes.

The supply, treatment, transportation and recooling of water is associated with a considerable energy demand. We are constantly working to optimize our energy consumption and the amount of water we use, and to adapt to the needs of our business and the environment. One example of this is the nitric acid Verbund at the Ludwigshafen site in Germany. Various recooling optimization measures not only significantly reduce the use of cooling water there, but also save 12 gigawatt hours of energy and avoid 3,500 metric tons of CO2 every year.

3 Aqueduct 3.0 was used to identify sites in water stress areas to determine pro rata water abstraction and water consumption.

Water in the BASF Group 2020

Million cubic meters per year

Water in the BASF Group 2020 (pie chart)

a The difference between the volume of water abstracted and the volume discharged is primarily attributable to evaporation losses during recirculation of cooling water and limited accuracy in measuring cooling water discharge.

b Total from production processes, graywater, rinsing and cleaning in production

Emissions to water

  • Emissions slightly lower

A total of 1,429 million cubic meters of water were discharged from BASF production sites in 2020 (2019: 1,509), including 166 million cubic meters of wastewater from production. Total wastewater in water stress areas was less than 1%. As cooling water is recirculated as much as possible there, the share of wastewater from production processes is comparatively higher than at other BASF sites.

BASF carefully assesses the impact of wastewater discharge in accordance with the applicable laws and regulations. The responsible local authorities regularly review our analyses and precautions in accordance with the relevant local requirements to prevent contaminants from entering water bodies.

Emissions of nitrogen to water amounted to 2,900 metric tons in 2020 (2019: 3,000). Around 11,500 metric tons of organic substances were emitted in wastewater (2019: 12,100). Our wastewater contained 22 metric tons of heavy metals (2019: 25). Phosphorus emissions amounted to 270 metric tons (2019: 260).

Our approach is to reduce wastewater volumes and contaminant loads at the source in our production processes, and to reuse wastewater and material flows internally as far as possible. To treat wastewater, we use both central measures in wastewater treatment plants and the selective pretreatment of individual wastewater streams before these are sent to the wastewater treatment plant. Suitable methods are used, depending on the type and degree of contamination – including biological processes, chemical oxidation, membrane technologies, precipitation or adsorption.

In order to avoid unanticipated emissions and the pollution of surface or groundwater, we have water protection concepts for our production sites in place. This is mandatory for all production plants as part of our Responsible Care Management System. The wastewater protection plans involve evaluating wastewater in terms of risk and drawing up suitable monitoring approaches. We use audits to check that these measures are being implemented and complied with.