There are 748 million people worldwide who do not have access to safe drinking water, and 2.5 billion who lack access to improved sanitation. Several non-profits and for-profits in Washington state are partnering to increase access to clean water and therefore improve lives globally. These NGOs and companies have contributed to over 2 billion people gaining access to improved drinking water since 1990, and they will continue efforts to help the world reach Sustainable Development Goal 6 by 2030 — ensuring availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.
Global Washington member FSG understands the power of NGO/Business partnerships. Below is an excerpt from a blog titled Untapped Potential written by Arani Kajenthira Grindle, Senior Consultant at FSG, that touches on opportunities around shared value and water.
Shared Value and Water
In conducting our work, we have come to recognize that companies have ample opportunity to influence water access and availability in their relative operational spheres, addressing a clear social challenge in a manner that allows for business returns across all three levels of shared value creation.
New Products and Markets
We see opportunities for innovation in three main areas: products that reduce water consumption (for example, aerating showerheads or low-flow faucets), products that improve water quality (such as water filters or chemical purifiers), and creation of new uses for byproducts that increase water availability (such as treating and selling excess water from industrial processes for agricultural uses). In these categories, but particularly the last two, there is also a possibility to access new markets by developing products that are customized such that lower-income consumers or those operating in resource constrained environments are able to thrive. One such product innovation we have previously highlighted in our white paper ‘Creating Shared Value in India’ is in the field of irrigation technology. Jain Irrigation Systems Ltd. (JISL) recognized small landholder farmers’ need for efficient irrigation systems. By developing and promoting micro-irrigation systems that significantly reduce water use, JISL has gained a significant foothold in an underserved market and also improved the livelihoods of smallholder farmers by increasing the quality and sustainability of agricultural production.
Redefining Productivity in the Value Chain
The corporate value chain perhaps presents the most natural intersection with the water sector, and there are abundant possibilities to directly reduce industrial water consumption by introducing more water efficient processes, and customizing production inputs and production processes such that they require a lower quantity of water. Some examples of more water efficient processes could include: conducting frequent water audits to identify and repair leaks, installing low-flow appliances when possible, and / or retrofitting greywater systems for non-potable water reuse. In terms of customizing production inputs in a manner that requires less water, one example might be an apparel manufacturer that invests in developing textiles that require less water in the production process.
Companies can further extend their efforts in direct operations to impact the quantity and quality of water in their operating ecosystem. By working closely with smaller companies in their local supply chains, multi-national corporations could increase access to and/or awareness of process innovations that could reduce costs to their suppliers while improving the quantity or quality of available water. More specifically, a food and beverage company could, for example, consider both downstream and upstream investments in reducing water consumption: working with local fruit producers to reduce water consumption by introducing more efficient irrigation processes, with fruit processing companies to reduce water used as part of the juicing and preservation process, and with bottling companies to reduce water used in preparing the final product for distribution.
Building Clusters and Framework Conditions
Corporations can complement their more direct engagements in product innovation and value chain productivity by strengthening the enabling environment for increased water efficiency. Particularly in emerging and developing economies, and in more arid environments, companies can advocate for local stakeholders to create financial incentives that encourage more efficiency in industrial operations, and / or institute water rights markets with appropriate water valuation and associated mechanisms for trading water rights among users.
In cases where the lack of a reliable water supply has direct business consequences, companies may also consider investing in strengthening local water infrastructure, either by partnering with local governments or by ensuring that business-as-usual investments in desalination or water treatment facilities are of sufficient capacity to also serve the local community. One such example we have noted is the Ayala Group in the Philippines, which chose to invest in strengthening water infrastructure in the nation’s capital by taking a controlling stake in the Manila Water Company, with the goal of providing safe, reliable water to underserved, low-income households while reducing costs from inefficiencies and illegal connections. Although the bulk of initial capital investment is borne by Manila Water Company, implementing an inclusive business model and working in partnership with local communities and municipalities has created positive incentives for all stakeholders to ensure the success and sustainability of the program.