Banner Let’s make water’s role in sustainability a global goal

Let’s make water’s role in sustainability a global goal

On April 22, at the urging of the United Nations, we came together to focus on a more sustainable economy that works for both people and the planet. But for real sustainability, we need to better use our remaining water 365 days a year.

It’s been more than 70 years since the United Nations was founded with a goal of maintaining international peace and security, promoting social progress, and elevating both human rights and the basic standards of living for every citizen on the globe.

Today, the United Nations is committed to 17 pillars of sustainable development goals as part of its global mission, with increasing water-use efficiency to address water scarcity playing a critical role.

In the 1970s, it started the mission of highlighting the importance of global sustainability, and by 2009, the issue had garnered mainstream attention, resulting in the creation of International Mother Earth Day. Now every year on April 22, we carve out a day to focus on the vital importance of needing to shift to a more sustainable economy that works for both people and the planet.

The intricate relationship between water and sustainability

As we are in the UN’s International Decade (2018–2028) for Action – Water for Sustainable Development, we must address the water challenges we face due to a changing climate. Committing just one day per year to the discussion of water’s importance to sustainability is not enough. This year, we must act as if every day is Earth Day, because as temperatures rise, ice caps melt and global freshwater supplies dwindle, the survival of our planet depends on it.

2022 will be a banner year for sustainable development and water in particular, with multiple meetings of global leaders to discuss the role that water can play as we prepare for the 2023 UN Water Conference. Two of the key issues that will be on the agenda at these global meetings are supply chain management and community engagement. No discussion of agriculture, clean water or sustainability is complete without a thorough understanding of them both.

What makes water so fundamental to the health of agriculture and the future of sustainability? For starters, it comes down to the supply chain.

We’ve heard quite a bit over the past few months about the disruptions to our global supply chain. It is easy to notice that the delivery speed of our Amazon packages has been affected, as global port congestion and rising freight processes are causing a shortage of goods across industries. However, there is another vital supply chain that is also disrupted; our available supply of fresh water.

Ensuring the health of our watersheds is a top priority

Watersheds, the common outlets that channel rainfall and snowfall to the flow points of all water, are the key to efficient water use. When watersheds aren't healthy, the entire water supply chain suffers. As global companies increase their efforts to contribute toward sustainability, it’s fair to say that 2022 has the potential to be a watershed moment for watershed management; but this can only happen if we ask ourselves, “What role are we playing in helping our customers to have a positive impact on watershed management?”

It is not enough to simply produce and distribute a useful product. We have an obligation, as fresh water resources become increasingly scarce, to ensure our customers are using water efficiently.

The numbers also support this story. Between 2001 and 2018, 74 percent of natural disasters were water related, and this number is only bound to increase. By 2040, one-quarter of the world’s children will live in areas of extreme high water stress.  

In addition, good water management is good business: the economic loss due to the 2012 drought in the United States was $20 billion , the most costly in the country’s history. The next one will cost even more.

Rethinking water management

Collective action is the only way out of this, and businesses must lead the way. As leaders within the water management and water technology spheres, it’s critical that we ensure our customers are increasing their water yields and maintaining that yield properly. We must then look at the entire supply chain to be sure that all of us, at each stage, are ensuring the health of our watersheds. We are only as strong as our weakest links.

To encourage changes in water management, we need to rethink the model of incentives. Carbon credits have been revolutionary in transforming regenerative agriculture. What if water received the same amount of attention as carbon? We would have the potential to offset water use throughout the supply chain. It’s all possible. It simply requires collective action for widespread adoption.

And while conservation is key, water quality is just as important as water quantity. Companies must ask themselves, “Are we doing the best we can, and doing everything we can, to ensure water quality?”

Leading by example with private-public partnerships

Today the businesses of the world have a grand opportunity to lead by example. Not only are we role models, but we also understand that we cannot do this alone. 

Businesses need to work both with governments and citizens in this battle. The European Union has offered a useful playbook for how regulations and incentives can produce results in the agricultural areas in terms of water supply, greenhouse gasses and climate change. The United States and other developed nations can learn from them, and still have quite a bit of progress to make. 

One way in which businesses can help speed things along is through public-private partnerships. Supporting our communities and partnering with them is the proper path to ensuring a safe and reliable water supply for everyone. This partnership involves relationships with sanitation, drinking water sources, farmers, industry thinkers and government leaders.

Water stewardship starts with each one of us

The United Nations understands the role that businesses play, and has created the CEO Water Mandate, a call for corporate water sustainability that lays out six commitment areas to water stewardship.  

Community is highlighted as one of these six areas, but it’s actually integral to all of them. Water flows in all directions and a contaminated water supply creates issues both upstream and downstream. No one is immune or insulated. Because we all share the water supply, we must all partner together to shepherd it. 

Sometimes big change comes from the smallest steps, too. Community engagement can start at the micro-level. Volunteering, engaging, and educating communities about water management can make massive differences. It doesn’t have to cost billions. In between investing a great deal of time and money and doing something very simple and small, there exist thousands of potential opportunities to improve the water supply. 

This Earth Day we need to also think about how we use our water efficiently, the earth needs it to survive. Water, like air, is a resource that cannot be hoarded or contained. We all require it to live and we are all touched by the quality and quantity of the supply. To steward our future, we need to steward our water, together, and we need to start now. Tomorrow is not soon enough.