Pacific Institute Insights is the staff blog of the Pacific Institute, one of the world’s leading nonprofit research groups on sustainable and equitable management of natural resources. For more about what we do, click here.

  • Why Companies Should Dip Their Toes in Clean Water (and Sanitation): The Private Sector and SDG 6

    By Abbey Warner
    November 29, 2017

    “While considerable progress has been made over the past decade across all areas of development, the pace of progress observed in previous years is insufficient to fully meet the Sustainable Development Goals and targets by 2030.”United Nations, 2017

    As of 2015, 29 percent of the world population did not have access to safely managed drinking water and 61 percent did not have access to a safely managed sanitation service, according to a World Health Organization and UNICEF report. Additionally, more than 40 percent of the global population is affected by water scarcity, and that number is projected to rise. Meanwhile, more than 80 percent of global wastewater is discharged without treatment.

    In 2015, the United Nations Member States committed to the 2030 Agenda, a 15-year plan to support people, the planet, and prosperity. The Agenda aims to eradicate global poverty sustainably and inclusively through 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) targeting issues such as poverty, hunger, education, and health.

    Goal 6 of the 2030 Agenda, which focuses on clean water and sanitation, aims to “ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all” by 2030, with corollary benefits for sustainable development and the environment. This goal is broken down into eight separate targets and 11 indicators (ways to measure progress) that focus on challenges around drinking water, water quality,  sanitation and hygiene, water use efficiency, water management, and water-related ecosystems. There is a distinct focus on supporting developing countries and encouraging the participation of local communities.

    Source: The CEO Water Mandate, WWF, and WaterAid

    2030 SDGs, full text here.

    Why the 2030 Agenda and SDG 6 Need the Private Sector

    “Companies seeking to manage water-related business risks can and should contribute to improved water management and governance that is also in the public interest. If done responsibly, integrating private sector action into global policy frameworks and local implementation practices makes it possible for companies to contribute considerable resources and expertise to the achievement of SDG6.”CEO Water Mandate, WWF, and WaterAid, 2015

    Business support is vital to the fulfillment of the 2030 Agenda. SDG 6 encompasses important issues that the world — including businesses — must confront now, or face increasingly into the future.

    “Research shows that achieving the Global Goals would create at least US$12 trillion in market opportunities and up to 380 million new jobs by 2030.

    Given the June 2018 launch timeline for the SDG 6 Synthesis Report, which will summarize the current status of SDG 6 and its implications for policymakers, it is important to highlight now the role that the private sector can and must play in fulfilling SDG 6. If private sector stakeholders can align their own actions around water with SDG 6 and the other Global Goals now, meaningful change on water issues will be much more attainable in the future.

    Why the Private Sector Should Want to Get Involved

    “First movers who have already aligned their resource use and workforce management with the Global Goals will have a 5-15 year advantage on the sustainable playing field.” Business Commission

    According to CDP, more than two- thirds of the world’s largest companies report exposure to water risks; in 2016 alone, water-related impacts to disclosing companies totaled $14 billion. In the World Economic Forum’s yearly global risk report, for the past five years the issue of water crises has ranked within the top three in terms of global risk and impact. Several of the other top five risks are also water-related. To address their water risks, businesses will need to increase engagement with global water and sanitation efforts such as SDG 6. The impact of water stewardship and the number of opportunities for collective action with other stakeholders on shared water risks will be greater overall if companies can align with global efforts already underway, such as the SDGs.

    Source: CEO Water Mandate

    Research by the Business and Sustainable Development Commission (Business Commission) shows that achieving the Global Goals would create at at least US$12 trillion in market opportunities and up to 380 million new jobs by 2030. In 2017, companies reporting to CDP on water risk invested US$23.4 billion in more than 1000 projects in 91 countries to tackle water risk. But corporate action on the SDGs has a long way to go; according to China Water Risk, water stewardship actions do not yet match the level of risk. In addition, CDP points out in their Global Water Report 2017 that the scale and number of water challenges is continuing to rise, and private sector action around water must occur faster and better.  

    How the Private Sector Can Get Involved

    The first step for businesses interested in engaging with SDG 6 is to work on water stewardship in their operations. There are myriad ways companies can begin to act as water stewards, including  evaluating their water risk, embracing disclosure and transparency, and setting context-based water targets. All of these steps support direct stewardship actions like reducing water use, ensuring WASH access for companies’ employees, investing in ecosystem restoration projects, and treating or reducing water pollution. Engaging with these aspects of stewardship will help companies avoid risk and further global progress on SDG 6.

    If you are part of a company that is new to water stewardship, consider checking out the CEO Water Mandate’s page on how to get started. The CEO Water Mandate  mobilizes business leaders to advance water stewardship, sanitation, and the Sustainable Development Goals through individual and collective efforts on the six elements of the Mandate: Direct Operations, Supply Chain and Watershed Management, Collective Action, Public Policy, Community Engagement, and Transparency. To join, companies must be current signatories of the United Nations Global Compact, and each year will be expected to report a Communication on Progress covering implementation of the six Mandate elements.

    The Water Stewardship Toolbox developed by the CEO Water Mandate is an invaluable and free collection of reports, toolkits, case studies, and frameworks around water stewardship that can be filtered by industry sector, stage of the journey, scope, and type of resource. Key reads on corporate engagement on SDG 6 include:

    1. Corporate Engagement on Water Supply, Sanitation and Hygiene (2017);
    2. The Business Case for Investing in WASH;
    3. Serving the Public Interest: Corporate Water Stewardship and Sustainable Development; and
    4. Business Reporting on the SDGs: An Analysis of Goals and Targets.

    Incorporating the SDGs, including SDG 6, is not a one-size-fits-all process. However, the value in aligning corporate water stewardship strategies and sustainability objectives with the 2030 Agenda is clear; for many companies, the value in reducing water risks is much greater than that of inaction.

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  • The World’s Water Challenges (2017)

    By Cora Kammeyer
    October 19, 2017

    Water is perhaps the most vital natural resource on the planet. It is necessary for human survival and a critical input into our food, manufacturing, and energy systems. It also sustains the ecosystems and climates upon which both our built and natural world rely.

    Today we are putting more pressure on freshwater resources than ever. Between a rapidly growing population and a shifting climate, water stress – and therefore water risk –  is increasing around the world. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 6 is focused on water, with several sub-goals related to different water challenges. We have seen promising progress, but there is much work to be done to make water sustainability a reality before the SDG target date of 2030.

    Global water stress map. Source: World Resources Institute.

    Growing Water Demand and Water Scarcity


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  • Watershed Context & Water Stewardship Goals: Why Thinking Local is Critical to Hedging Global Corporate Water Risk

    By Morgan Campbell
    October 10, 2017


    What do the drinking water crisis in Flint, Michigan, destructive monsoon flooding in Mumbai, India, Hurricane Harvey’s devastating storm surges in Texas, the recent five-year California drought, and the hypoxic dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico all have in common? They are all water risk events. Although they are characterized by differences in geography, they show water risks faced today are as diverse as the world’s topography and precipitation patterns. And while global pollutants, such as carbon or chlorofluorocarbons, can be addressed by global reduction initiatives, the inherently local nature of water risk requires that we weave together localized solutions to protect the future sustainability of water resources. …»

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  • How Your Business Can Play a Role in Ending the Global Water and Sanitation Crisis

    By Peter Schulte
    August 23, 2017

    No one need explain the true value of water to 54-year-old Elizabeth and her family in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea.  She spends more than half her meagre salary on buying drinking water from a local water vendor, as she knows the water from the nearby lake could make her unwell, unproductive and unable to provide for her family.

    Elizabeth knows that installing a safe water supply and decent toilet close to her home and market stall makes good business sense. She’ll spend less money on buying water. And a decent toilet will increase her productivity and reduce her absence from work, because she’ll get sick less often. In the long-run, if $1 were invested in water and sanitation, an average of $4 would be returned in increased productivity.

    Imagine now that instead of Elizabeth working at an independent market stall, she works in the supply chain of a multi-national food retailer. The lack of access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) in her workplace could cost the company millions in lost productivity; every year, the equivalent of US$4 billion in working days are lost due to poor sanitation.


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  • Make Public Drinking Water Fountains Great Again

    By Rapichan Phurisamban and Peter Gleick
    June 26, 2017

    In February of 2017, the Pacific Institute released a white paper entitled Drinking Fountains and Public Health: Improving National Infrastructure to Rebuild Trust and Ensure Access, which highlighted the limited evidence of a link between illness and disease outbreaks and drinking fountains. The report found that most problems could be traced to contamination from poor cleaning and maintenance or old water infrastructure in buildings, and called for comprehensive testing of drinking fountains, implementation of standard protocols for fountain maintenance, and a nationwide effort to replace old water infrastructure, which can be the source of lead and other contaminants.

    One aspect of efforts to expand access to fountains is to take a look at current drinking fountain technology and identify features that can help ensure their quality, convenience, and reliability. Ultimately, these features can help increase public confidence and access to high quality and affordable tap water.


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  • Mobile Apps to Quench Your Thirst

    A Review of Public Drinking Fountain Finders

    By Ayana Crawford and Rapichan Phurisamban
    June 12,2017

    Public drinking fountains used to be everywhere, providing a reliable source of free, high-quality drinking water outside the home. They are a great alternative to bottled water, with its steep environmental costs and high price (200 to 1,000 times more expensive than tap water or more). Drinking fountains, however, have been disappearing from public spaces over the past few decades. Poor public perception and concerns over water quality (as illustrated in the “water fountain episode” of Parks and Recreation) have played a role in their disappearance.

    Water quality issues at public fountains, when they exist, can be traced to poor cleaning and maintenance or old piping and fixture parts. To ensure the quality and continuance of public drinking fountains, (1) they must be routinely cleaned and maintained; (2) old drinking fountains with lead parts must be replaced or new fountains installed in high-traffic areas, and; (3) modern tools must be developed to let people know how to find these fountains.


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  • Corporate Water Targets: A New Approach

    By Tien Shiao
    May 22, 2017

    Screen Shot 2017-05-20 at 8.32.06 PM


    Water risks once again rank as one of the top 10 global risks in the 2016 World Economic Forum’s annual report.

    Screen Shot 2017-05-20 at 8.22.58 PMBecause of this, more and more companies view water as a business risk and water stewardship as a solution. As such, they are looking to find ways to measure their performance and progress. However, current methods for creating water stewardship metrics that evaluate on-the-ground projects are inadequate.

    Corporate water targets are often developed with various objectives in mind. Sometimes they are used to demonstrate the company’s leadership to external audience. Sometimes they are used to inform and inspire employees internally. Sometimes they are used to align water efforts across the company’s operations in various regions. And sometimes they are used to mark the company’s contributions to …»

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  • Thirsty for Change? 4 Ways to Improve Corporate Water Targets

    By Paul Reig, Morgan Gillespy, Tien Shiao, Kari Vigerstol and Alexis Morgan
    April 12, 2017

    Context-based water targets slider cropped


    Water-related business risks are becoming more and more apparent. According to CDP’s 2016 global water report, 607 companies lost $14 billion last year alone due to water scarcity, drought, flood and other water risks.

    Current methods for creating corporate water stewardship targets—which often ignore the unique local context of water issues—are inadequate. For companies to succeed as water stewards, they need a new generation of targets. Such targets—based on the local context and guided by the best available science—would help ensure long-term business growth in the face of increased competition and depletion of water.

    That’s why CDP, the UN Global Compact CEO Water Mandate, the Nature Conservancy, the World Resources Institute and WWF are calling for a new approach to setting corporate water targets. Our discussion paper launched today makes the case for setting context-based corporate water targets. Here are four considerations for companies looking to create more impactful water stewardship goals:

    1. Local context matters—a lot.


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  • National Geographic ScienceBlogs: National Water Infrastructure Efforts Must Expand Access to Public Drinking Fountains

    By Peter Gleick and Rapichan Phurisamban 
    March 8, 2017


    Modern drinking fountains chill and filter water, and let users fill water bottles (Photo: Peter Gleick 2011)

    Modern drinking fountains chill and filter water, and let users fill water bottles (Photo: Peter Gleick 2011)

    There is strong bipartisan support for expanding investment in the nation’s water infrastructure as part of a broader infrastructure effort. But there is, as yet, little agreement about what specific investments should be made. Here is one idea: expand access to high-quality and safe municipal water by improving access to drinking fountains in schools, parks, public buildings, and around public transit areas.

    Drinking fountains are an important public resource, serving as an alternative to bottled water or sugary drinks and accommodating a wide array of users, including children, commuters, runners, the homeless, and tourists. Some fountains are even designed to provide water for pets. A newly released study from the Pacific Institute, entitled “Drinking Fountains and Public Health: Improving National Water Infrastructure to Rebuild Trust and Ensure Access,” discusses the state of the nation’s drinking fountains and addresses concerns about their quality and links to illnesses. The report concludes that the risk of fountain water contamination can be reduced or eliminated altogether through improved maintenance and cleaning or updating and replacing old water infrastructure and pipes. …»

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  • National Geographic ScienceBlogs: From Scientists to Policymakers: Communicating on Climate, Scientific Integrity, and More

    By Peter Gleick, President-Emeritus and Chief Scientist
    December 1, 2016

    Among the different professional categories, scientists and engineers remain very highly respected by the public, at least compared to politicians, business leaders, the media, and even religious authorities. Part of this is due to the fact that success in the scientific enterprise depends on impartial analysis and independence from political ideology. And yet there are strong connections between science and policy: good policy without good science is difficult; good policy with bad science is impossible. Sure, there is plenty of bad policy made even in the face of contradictory scientific evidence, but that is the result of political failures, or, at times, poor scientific communication.

    A perennial question facing scientists is when — and how — to participate in public communication and policy debates around issues of social concern. This is not a new question: as long as scientists have seen a connection between their work and major challenges facing society, some have acted on a sense of responsibility to contribute to debates about how science can be harnessed to improve the world. Scientists have little political power: they are small in numbers, rarely sufficiently financially wealthy to use money as a political tool, and often politically naïve or poorly networked.


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