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Currently, water stress affects more than 2 billion people around the world, a figure that is projected to rise. Ensuring availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all are essential to human health and to environmental sustainability and economic prosperity.
I believe that foundational knowledge about the water landscape is critical. That’s why I am very thrilled to share insights and considerations for investing in climate responsible water solutions with fellow social investors. My hope is that such convenings can shake things up a bit, create dialogue and debate, and encourage all of us to use our limited resources as wisely as possible to have the greatest impact. Given the numerous alarming reports about increased demand for water, food and energy, and the current impacts of climate change, we really can’t wait.
“Water is a heavily underrated crisis that all human beings are facing. Everybody has been talking about climate chance, which is an important topic, but water being a critical element has long covered being invisibly under the bigger themes. It received less attention than it should have had. So little effort has been done to solve water, that when the United Nations were going through the SDGs and their targets, the conclusion was that only SDG6 (water & sanitation) is going alarmingly off-track.” – Libin Song, lead analyst at PureTerra Ventures
I am actually not surprised by this trend. In fact, I believe that we will not achieve SDG 6 or tackle other complex water challenges with the current tools and mindset. 60% of the water supply shortage cannot be solved by legacy technologies. The status quo along with the current methodology of capital allocation toward global water issues is broken. Too much effort is being placed in the area of instant gratification impact strategies and not enough at the source of the grave problems the world faces with access to safe affordable water. There is no shortage of capital being spent on WASH and other initiatives – which are admirable – but we have to look at the bigger picture by going to the root of the global demand for new sustainable solutions. Disruptive solutions are essential to an environmentally sustainable and an economically viable water cycle. If we do not immediately change our way of thinking and more importantly the way we act, it will not matter anymore how many CSR projects get installed, there will not be any water left to run them.
Corporate water stewardship needs to move in a new direction
Water stewardship is currently creating little impact because the strategies are mostly transactional in nature rather than transformative. The private sector has the opportunity to be part of the solution to water scarcity by leveraging its global reach, skills, workforce, and speed in implementing programmes.
Transformative water stewardship through corporate-driven strategies have the ability to make significant contributions to solving the most pressing water challenges at their root. Corporates woule be able to identify and invest in activities that create brand value, drive innovation in technology, strengthen water governance, advance funding and establish higher impact partnerships and business models. This approach generates greater societal value and positions a company as part of the solution to the 21st century water challenges of today and contributes to the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
A few corporates are already moved towards this new direction. AVPN member, UPL, and JSW Group have adopted a bold approach that places sustainability at the heart of the business with ambitious sustainability targets.
UPL, one of the leading companies in sustainable agriculture, is investing heavily in innovative technologies, and is well positioned to take up the responsibilities for humanity. “It is clear that we need to focus on water,” says Mrinmoy Choudhury, Global Commercial Lead for Sustainable sSolutions Business at UPL Ltd. For Choudhury it is clear they need to focus on water. It is imperative that agriculture should use water more efficiently. Since the Only 2.5% of fresh water is available for humanity, and 80-85% of it is used in agriculture. It is imperative that agriculture should use water more efficiently. “While climate change has not affected rainfall volume dramatically, it is the distribution (human interference) of the rainfall which has created the most devastating impact.” Since the biggest loss is felt at the field, Choudhury believes that UPL can also create the biggest impact opportunity in this area. By investing in a very interesting soil and water technology, called Zeba, UPL feels it is in the process of directly impacting the consumption of water in the farms by 25%.
Another inspiring role model is JSW Group, an Indian businesses conglomerate with footprints across various sectors, including steel, energy, minerals, port and infrastructure, and cement, across the world. As part of JSW Group efforts to deliver its sustainability vision, it has established policies to carefully and innovatively source for and use water. The specific interventions ‘within the fence’ mentioned by Prabodha Acharya, Chief Sustainability officer at JSW Group demonstrated that the use of water technology (Membrane Bio-reactor (MBR)) within a sewage treatment plant can have a tremendous environmental and economic impact. In fact, using the MBR can reduce fresh water consumption (3800 cubic meter/day), power consumption (1.84 Million kWH per year), emission (1508t CO2 per year). Furthermore, it can create huge cost savings a year!
Both UPL and JSW have demonstrated that the private sector can intervene ‘inside the fence’ (by treating water at the plants) and ‘outside the fence’ (by creating community activities around water), particularly through their strong social arm (i.e. CSR or foundation) and utilising sport to promote sustainability and education. While there is no single answer to the water challenges, the WaterSpark coalition believes we need to centralize knowledge and collaborate to promote, educate, and engage in water development to catalyse investments solutions and avert water challenges globally. I invite all companies and interested parties, big or small, from all regions and sectors to join us on this journey.