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The Dole Way Embracing Water Stewardship

The Dole Way Embracing Water Stewardship


The availability of water is becoming less predictable across the world.  Difficulties regarding this essential resource will also likely be the primary way many of us experience the effects of climate change. As global temperatures rise and weather patterns change, rainfall becomes less certain. Scientists estimate that by 2025, half of the world’s population will be living in water-stressed areas, including parts of the United States.

The majority of the world’s freshwater supply is used for agriculture. While data suggests that fruits and vegetables require lower amounts of water then other crops or livestock, here at Dole, we believe we have a responsibility to be stewards of the resources we do use. This is why water management is a key element of our sustainability framework, The Dole Way.

At the local level across the globe, Dole farmers have focused on conserving and reusing water for decades. Now, these learnings are part of our formal commitment to improve water management and measure our progress.

Our three divisions have set a goal of achieving 100 percent optimized water practices across all Dole-operated farms and packing facilities by 2025. For Dole, optimized means using only the water that is needed, introducing leading irrigation technology, and implementing water recycling systems (see table below). From grapes grown in South Africa to lettuce picked in California, we’re utilizing cutting-edge technology, collaborating with communities, and partnering with organizations to reach these goals.

Water Conservation Goal: Achieve 100% optimized* water practices in Dole operated farms and packing facilities by 2025

*Each division determined its water optimization strategy and set specific targets below:


Goal by Division:

% Reached by 2020:

Diversified (grapes, berries and cherries): 100% use of drip irrigation

90% drip irrigation

Tropical Fruits (bananas, pineapples and other tropical fruits): water recycling systems in 100% of all Dole-owned* banana packing facilities.

78% water recycling implemented

Fresh Vegetables (fresh vegetables and packaged salads): 75% use of drip irrigation

65% drip irrigation


A New Perspective

Achieving our goals around water means working with experienced partners. We’re particularly proud of our Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS) certification. In 2020, 13 Dole-owned and independent banana farms in Colombia and Ecuador achieved the AWS International Water Stewardship Standard, a first in the banana industry.

The AWS Standard provided these farms with a proactive and systemic approach to managing both water use and water quality. The first step in this rigorous certification process involved identifying each farm’s broader water catchment area. In other words, what source did our water come from, and how many other communities and wilderness areas share the same freshwater source?

This shift in perspective — from individual farms to entire water catchment areas — helped the Dole team understand the complexity of the water challenges, shared Sandra Lima, Dole Tropical Products’ senior manager for corporate social responsibility. Just as important, they’re exploring new opportunities for improvement through collaboration.

“At Dole, we’ve been implementing practices for sustainable water use at site-level for more than 25 years,” she said. “Now, with the certification, we have a new framework that involves working together with communities, governments, and other partners.”


Proof in the Process

Through the AWS certification process, we evolved our approach to consider how water usage affects all of us connected to it. Taking the time to educate and engage local communities not only resulted in more comprehensive water use plans, it also made a difference in the lives of Dole employees, their families, and others living in the catchment area. 

For example, the collaboration revealed that one community had outgrown its water supply infrastructure, leaving half of residents without adequate water access. Once this challenge was identified, the committee met with municipal officials to request an inspection and push for improvements.

“During this process, Dole provided resources and assumed some costs,” Lima said. “But what was most important was that we were actively involved in searching for potential solutions in a collective effort.”


Collaborations are Key

As Dole’s team began implementing and evaluating the water management plans, the number of collaborators expanded. Team members shared their expertise with other farms in the catchment.

Indeed, Dole’s work in water has helped build a network of experts, government agencies, and non-profit organizations that, in turn, are developing other water management projects of their own. By pioneering this expansive approach, Dole hopes to inspire other corporations to do the same.

From a global perspective, our choices around water will play a critical role in how we mitigate the impacts of climate change. It’s essential that all of us — from farming organizations to local governments to individuals  — effectively manage water use. At Dole, we are taking responsibility and action to help preserve this most precious resource.


Want to learn more about water and the effects of climate change? Visit here.

Here are some useful ideas for reducing water use at home.


Published June 1, 2021

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