Water is of fundamental importance in chemical production. It is used as a coolant, solvent and cleaning agent, and to make our products. Our goods are transported via waterways. At the same time, water is a scarce commodity in more and more regions. That is why we promote the responsible use of this resource with sustainable water management.
At a glance
Cubic meters total water abstraction
of water demand covered by reuse
- Responsible use a core part of our strategy
- Global water target 53.5% achieved
- Demand and utilization continuously optimized
The responsible use of water as a resource is a core element of our Responsible Care Management System and an important part of our commitment to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This is also reflected in our position paper on water protection, which we published in 2021.
Our global standards and requirements for water are defined in Group-wide guidelines. Among other things, these stipulate that water protection concepts must be implemented at all production sites. The guidelines also cover aspects such as process and transportation safety in order to prevent production and transportation-related product spillages into water bodies as far as possible. Our sites and subsidiaries are responsible for implementing and complying with internal guidelines and legal requirements. The Environmental Protection, Health & Safety unit in the Corporate Center conducts regular audits to monitor this. BASF’s global network of experts shares information, insights and best practices around the responsible use of water on an ongoing basis.
Introducing and implementing sustainable water management has been a cornerstone of our strategy for many years now. Our focus here is on our Verbund sites and on production sites in water stress areas.1 The aim is to protect water as a resource, to use it as efficiently as possible through recirculation, and to continuously reduce wastewater and emissions. We consider the quantitative, qualitative and social aspects of water use.
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.
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. Where improvement is necessary, we support suppliers in developing and implementing appropriate measures, such as the correct handling of wastewater. In addition, we are involved in a wide range of initiatives to promote sustainability in the supply chain. For example, efficient water use is a core part of the Pragati project to improve sustainability in castor bean farming, the source of the castor oil we use.
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.
We work with numerous partners along the value chain and from civil society to protect water as a resource. For instance, BASF is a member of the Alliance for Water Stewardship, a global multi-stakeholder organization that promotes the responsible use of water. We are co-founders of the Alliance to End Plastic Waste (AEPW) and are also involved in other global networks such as the World Plastics Council or Operation Clean Sweep to effectively reduce and prevent plastic waste, especially in water bodies.
We report transparently and comprehensively on water. For instance, we again provided detailed answers to the 2021 water survey from the nonprofit organization CDP. BASF again achieved leadership status with an A– rating in the final assessment. 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 can also contribute to sustainable water management at the customers of the evaluated companies.
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.
Global target and measures
Our goal is to introduce sustainable water management at our Verbund sites and at all production sites in water stress areas by 2030, covering 89% of BASF’s total water abstraction. We achieved 53.5% of our target in 2021 (2020: 46.2%).2 Sustainable water management was introduced at seven additional sites in 2021 (2020: 6).
As part of sustainable water management, our sites regularly assess the water situation in the catchment area. This raises awareness of potential risks and impacts for the population such as water scarcity. Based on the assessments conducted until the end of 2021, we did not identify any activities with a significant impact on water availability and quality at any site.
Introduction of sustainable water management at our production sites in water stress areas and at our Verbund sites
Another important part of our sustainable water management is the continuous analysis and implementation of measures for improvement. For instance, we use wastewater from municipal wastewater treatment plants to reduce our demand for freshwater at our sites in Tarragona, Spain (since 2013) and Freeport, Texas (since 2019). At the Pontecchio site in Italy, we partially use rainwater, which reduced our demand for river and groundwater by 22,200 cubic meters in 2021. In Belgium, our Verbund site in Antwerp is a member of the Lerend Netwerk Water network of the Belgian chemical association Essenscia together with other chemical and pharmaceutical companies. The aim is to facilitate dialog on the responsible use of water and to develop action plans for water conservation and circular water use. At the Verbund site in Ludwigshafen, Germany, we have continually optimized cooling water needs over the past few years with various technical improvements. One example is the ethylene oxide plant, where a change in the pipeline route implemented in 2020 reduces the river water used for cooling purposes by around 4.7 million cubic meters compared with the reference period (June 2019 to June 2020). Since then, the cooling system has operated without pumps. This also saves around 360,000 kilowatt hours of electricity compared with the reference period.
Depending on the local situation, we also implement measures for improvement at our sites’ catchment areas together with other stakeholders. One example is the Incentivo ao Produtor de Água program that we launched at the Guaratinguetá site in Brazil in 2011 together with local authorities, the Espaço ECO Foundation and other partners. Measures such as better soil management or the reforestation of riverbank woodlands have since significantly reduced surface runoff and soil erosion in the Ribeirão Guaratinguetá catchment area.
Our water abstraction totaled 1,695 million cubic meters in 2021 (2020: 1,728). This demand was covered for the most part by freshwater such as rivers and lakes (84% 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 2021, 5% of our total water demand was covered by third parties (2020: 5%).
We predominantly use water for cooling purposes (87% of water abstraction), after which we discharge it back to our supply sources with no product contact. 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. Here, too, we reduce our demand for water by recycling wastewater. Most of the water used for production purposes is discharged back to water bodies after being treated in our own or third-party plants. Overall, 78.5% of the water we use in cooling or production is reused several times.
The BASF Group’s water consumption describes the amount of water that is not discharged to a water body, meaning that it is no longer available to other users. Consumption is mainly attributable to the evaporation of water in recirculating cooling systems. A smaller amount is from the water contained in our products. Water consumption in 2021 amounted to around 72 million cubic meters (2020: 63 million cubic meters).
In 2021, around 25% of our production sites were located in water stress areas (2020: 25%). These sites accounted for 1% of BASF’s total water abstraction (2020: 1%).3 In water stress areas, we mainly source water from third parties (81%) and largely cover our demand with freshwater. Water consumption in water stress areas accounted for 16% of BASF’s total water consumption in 2021 (2020: 11%) and was primarily attributable to evaporation in cooling processes. Wastewater in water stress areas accounted for less than 1% of BASF’s total wastewater. The share of wastewater from cooling processes in water stress areas is lower than for the BASF Group as a whole. Cooling water is rarely used for once-through cooling here. Instead, it is generally recirculated to reduce water demand. Production wastewater in water stress areas is primarily treated at third-party facilities.
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.
Emissions to water
A total of 1,503 million cubic meters of water were discharged from BASF production sites in 2021 (2020: 1,429), including 177 million cubic meters of wastewater from production.
Our wastewater is subject to strict controls and we carefully assess the impact of wastewater discharge in accordance with the applicable laws and regulations. Both internal audits and the responsible local authorities regularly assess whether the analyses and safety precautions at our sites comply with internal guidelines and legal requirements.
Emissions of nitrogen to water amounted to 3,000 metric tons in 2021 (2020: 2,900). Around 12,500 metric tons of organic substances were emitted in wastewater (2020: 11,500). Our wastewater contained 17 metric tons of heavy metals (2020: 22). Phosphorus emissions amounted to 340 metric tons (2020: 270).
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. We use different methods 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.
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.
3 Aqueduct 3.0 was used to identify sites in water stress areas to determine pro rata water abstraction and water consumption.