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Reflections from World Water Week: Collective Action Needed to Further Progress

3p Contributor | Tuesday October 16th, 2012 | 0 Comments

By Hugh Share 

The need for collective action on water issues has never been greater. The concept of shared water risks is relatively new and the reality of working collaboratively with multiple stakeholders on water issues is complex. What’s encouraging is that we’re starting to find ways to make this a reality.

I recently returned from World Water Week – an annual gathering of water experts in Stockholm – where the consensus seemed to be that when it comes to water, we have achieved as much as we can on our own. We’ve gotten much better at working “inside the walls.”

Now it is time for all stakeholders, from businesses like Anheuser-Busch InBev to NGOs like the World Wildlife Fund and international coalitions such as the UN CEO Water Mandate, to work together in ways that scale the impact of water sustainability initiatives. As Gavin Power, deputy director of the UN Global Compact and head of the CEO Water Mandate, noted at the event, there is huge promise for collective action and a real need for information that is organized and accessible so that it helps organizations understand how they can collaborate to address shared water risks.

On World Water Day in 2010, AB InBev, through its local company Ambev, launched the CYAN Movement, an effort to help protect the Corumbá-Paranoá Basin, an at-risk watershed near our Brasilia brewery. This ongoing campaign involves a partnership with the World Wildlife Fund and stakeholders from local communities and governments and our team in Brazil. Its successes to date are rooted in deep engagement and we believe it creates a model for how to work with multiple stakeholders to reduce shared water risks.

The core objective of this project is to bring together local communities, employees, government agencies and other stakeholders to preserve and recover springs, aquifer headwater and replenishment areas. Prior to launching, we learned that awareness about the state of the water basin was low. Once we informed people and identified who was interested, we invited them to brainstorm on what could be done. The local community was on board from the start. To date, more than 6,500 people have engaged in the project by monitoring streams, planting more than 5,200 saplings and participating in workshops and other events.

We’re also partnering with local authorities by informing and engaging different communities in Brazil on water use. For example, our Ambev team created the CYAN Bank, which is based on partnerships with local water authorities to encourage households to reduce home water consumption. The more water saved, the more points households earn towards online purchases. We’re rewarding people for using less. I think the key lesson learned here is that being proactive and up front in approaching critical stakeholders is likely to result in positive feedback, support and, most importantly, results. To date, the CYAN Bank has saved more than 150 million liters of water.

AB InBev has been working to conserve water for many years, an effort that was strengthened in 2004, with the creation of the Voyager Plant Optimization management system. We’ve learned some valuable lessons along the way, and have developed a number of best practices that have allowed us to optimize water use in our breweries, thus reducing our environmental impact. We will continue this work across our business, but we are now tasked with the challenge of working collectively with others to help solve water issues across the supply chain, in communities and at the watershed level. CYAN, for instance, might be used as a template for other projects in at-risk watersheds. Working outside our walls is an ongoing learning process that is highly dependent on each local situation.

The World Wildlife Fund recently launched the Water Risk Filter, which helps companies assess their water-related risks and provides guidance on how to respond. This tool, built in partnership with the DEG KfW Bankengruppe, has already been used to assess more than 25,000 different plants in all major river basins of the world. It was designed for non-water experts, making it useful to organizations of various sizes, and it covers all relevant elements of water risks in all industries and countries.

The CEO Water Mandate’s new Water Action Hub is an online platform that helps stakeholders identify potential collaborators and engage with them in water-related collective action. It operates as an online dating service for organizations working on critical water issues. This, ultimately, will enable groups to work more efficiently, while at the same time making the work more scalable. The tool has the support of organizations, including the World Wildlife Fund, World Resources Institute (WRI), International  Business Leaders Forum (IBLF), and a wide range of partners, from Deloitte to the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development.

The Mandate also launched its Guide to Water-Related Collective Action, which was designed to supplement the Water Action Hub with step-by-step guidance for companies to build internal buy-in and engagement around water sustainability, particularly at the executive level. The Guide recognizes that different organizations have different levels of internal engagement – and more, that the same organization may even have different levels of internal engagement for different internal initiatives. This concept builds flexibility into companies’ water initiatives and allows them to more efficiently allocate resources and budgets – because not all projects require heavy levels of engagement.

These tools are important because they standardize the work that is already going on in the space. At AB InBev, for example, we have several water initiatives in motion, but now have the opportunity to partner more with others depending on the risks and needs of each watershed.

Businesses have long been working to engage with NGOs and international organizations to make water usage more sustainable in the long run. But the challenge has always been to find and make those valuable connections that would allow us to develop larger projects with more ambitious scopes. These tools will help our community to better deliver on the ideas and innovations that have been driving our work for the past several years, helping to turn talk into even more action.

image: John K via Flickr cc (some rights reserved)


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