How can a bottle of Coca Cola become a platform for action to protect the world’s most precious resource—water?
The first week of September, the Swedish capital of Stockholm sees waves of policymakers, engineers, academics, corporate representatives, and water specialists convene at World Water Week, the leading annual global event addressing global water and international development issues. Organized by the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), the theme this year was the nexus between water and energy. Energy efficiency has long been on the agenda of global business, but increasingly, water is being called “the new oil”, and gaining higher priority as floods, drought and inadequate water management disrupt business as usual.
At World Water Week 2014, the relevance of water to business, and the importance of multi-sector initiatives in solving global water crises, were the focus of panels featuring speakers from Coca Cola, Nestlé, PepsiCo, and BASF, among others. Carlo Galli, Strategic and Technical Adviser for Water Resources at Nestlé, argued that “water is everybody’s business”—it was therefore essential to bring civil society and the private sector together to solve water catchment and management problems. Multi-sector collaboration around a shared resource also gives corporations an opportunity to build stronger relationships with local communities.
Liese Dalbaumann, Director of Water Stewardship at PepsiCo, described a successful development initiative in India to restore naturally occurring ponds, that helped Pepsi’s production and benefited local communities. For companies like PepsiCo and Coca Cola, access to quality water is “an existential problem”, explained Joe Rozza, Global Water Sustainability Manager at Coca Cola. It is a core business risk—essential for business continuity. As companies wake up to this, their products have the potential to become “a platform for action,” argued Rozza: corporations can mobilize public support for water conservation by appealing to their consumers. Change the Course is one such initiative, using new media portals and corporate sponsorship incentives to increase flow in American rivers.
Business can also play an important part in water governance. As Håkan Tropp, Managing Director of Knowledge Services at SIWI, underlined: “some companies are stronger than countries.” Major corporations can therefore use their unique convening powers to build societal engagement around improved water quality, quantity and access. This year’s Stockholm Water Prize laureate, Dr. John Briscoe of Harvard University, stressed the need for innovation and the incentive of economic growth for solving water issues. He also acknowledged the importance of youth in moving these solutions forward.
In the closing plenary of the week-long conference, Amina Mohammed, Special Representative to the UN on the Post-2015 Development Goals, reiterated the interrelationship of energy, water and development and the urgency of “not just talking it, but also walking it.” 2015 is set to be a year of transformation as the global community shifts from poverty-focused Millennium Development Goals to a sustainable development agenda. Water is right at the heart of today’s global development challenges; it’s also key to solving them. A holistic approach is needed and to focus action, SIWI has released the Stockholm Statement on Water, summarizing the week’s discussions on the centrality of water in building resilient future societies. It features five key themes:
- Water for health
- Water for sustainable growth
- Water for agriculture
- Water for energy; and
- Water for climate
Going forward, Amina Mohammed suggested that efforts should be centered on “creating an enabling environment” for innovative approaches to multi-sector engagement on these issues. World Water Week is already making that possible.
This is a guest blog from One Stone contributor Marielle Velander, MSc Candidate in Anthropology and Development Management at The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). Her research focus is on innovative ways of communicating sustainable development and global water issues.