Insider Perspective: World Water Forum

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21 March, 2018


WBCSD insights



Tatiana Fedotova

Business stepping up on water: The first ever World Water Forum Business Day was held in Brasilia as WBCSD launched the CEO Guide to Water

A world’s first – a Business Day on Water

The World Water Forum is the world’s largest water-focused gathering, taking place every three years and bridging political, citizens’ and thematic processes. This year’s edition, held in Brasilia, Brazil under the theme of ‘Sharing water’, saw a further innovation – the Forum’s first-ever Business Day, jointly organized by our Global Network partner BCSD Brazil / CEBDS, the Confederation of National Industry (CNI) and UN Global Compact Brazil, in association with  international partners WBCSD, CEO Water Mandate and CDP.

A historic day like this sends a strong message about the distance that business has traveled in its awareness and knowledge about water risks and challenges. Water is now seen as a lever of solutions, supporting the continuity and resilience of business’ own operations. These solutions also directly contribute to broader societal efforts in areas including health, poverty reduction, ecosystems conservation and others, under the umbrella of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Water in Brazil

The Brazilian context is a highly topical one to hold these important discussions. The Amazon basin, mostly located in Brazil, provides 18% of the world’s freshwater resources. Despite this, water is often not available where and when it is needed in the country, be it for the country’s 85% urban population or to irrigate the crops on which the country is strongly dependent for its exports. Many cities, not least Sao Paulo and Brasilia, are sadly well familiar with water rationing. In some regions, water scarcity is so severe that up to 20% of the population is expected to migrate in the coming 10 years because of drought. Water quality has been steadily declining, and the uncertainty of overall water availability is growing by the day, notably due to climate change, while close to 40% of water is lost during distribution.

Public commitment

One part of Business Day – a workshop on the circular business case for water, co-organized by CEBDS and WBCSD – saw rich conversation on these issues. Attendees concluded that strong regulations, innovative financing, multi-stakeholder approaches to build trust and proper water valuation and pricing can both scale-up the implementation of 5R solutions (reduce, reuse, recycle, replenish, recover resources) and lead to sound water management practices in general.

Recognizing the magnitude of the challenges and urgency for solutions, a group of Brazilian companies used the opportunity of the World Water Forum to make a public commitment to water security. The commitment, championed by BCSD Brazil / CEBDS, brings together companies committed to integrating water into their business strategies, mitigating water risks by reducing consumption, treating and reusing the water they use, contributing to the conservation of water basins by investing in natural infrastructure and increasing irrigation efficiency. The commitment also underscores the need to recognize the need to measure and communicate water management, while developing watershed and supply chain-wide solutions.

Launch of the CEO Guide to Water

Steps for action like these are further outlined in WBCSD’s new CEO Guide to Water, which was launched in Brasilia during Business Day by WBCSD COO & Vice-President Peter White. The Guide lays out the business case for water, outlining physical and non-physical water-related risks and presenting significant business opportunities connected to water, including increased resilience and market growth.

The Guide’s foreword is signed by WBCSD Chair Sunny Verghese (Co-founder & CEO Olam), alongside Ivan Menezes (CEO, Diageo), Gilbert Ghostine (CEO, Firmenich), Magdi Batato (Executive Vice President & Head of Operations, Nestlé SA), Indra K. Nooyi (Chairman and CEO, PepsiCo), Antoine Frérot (CEO, Veolia) alongside Peter Bakker as President and CEO, WBCSD.

“Water should be a priority in the boardroom of every company in the world”, they argue in the foreword. “Water is central to the achievement of the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals. We encourage (every business leader) to show leadership and become a sound water steward by stepping up to one of the most pressing sustainability challenges we face”.

“Can it be done? Yes. Does it have to be done? Yes. Does it require everybody’s action? Absolutely yes” was a passionate plea by Olga Reyes, VP Public Affairs and Communications Latin America, The Coca-Cola Company, speaking at the Business Day’s Leadership Panel.

Leading businesses today recognize that the materiality of water is clear and urgent. They act accordingly to address shared risks and seize opportunities to become sound water stewards. This way, they contribute to addressing one of the most pressing sustainability challenges that the world is facing, which is critical not only for ensuring continuity and resilience of business, but also, very importantly, to the world’s stability, prosperity and peace.

WBCSD will continue to represent and amplify the voice of its member companies as forward-thinking businesses on water in global fora and policy platforms while providing leadership opportunities to advance the strategic business case for action and collaboration on water.