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Why Partnerships are Key to Water Security


By André Fourie, SAB Miller and Stuart Orr, WWF

This year’s annual World Water Week in Stockholm is happening at a unique moment. In just a few weeks’ time, member states of the United Nations will adopt a set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that will define global development priorities for the next 15 years.

The SDGs aim to eliminate extreme poverty, build more equitable and just societies, and keep humanity safely within the Earth’s ecological boundaries. Yes, they’re ambitious. Each of the 17 goals addresses a complex, yet fundamental issue for the well-being of people and the planet. Goal six, which will surely be a major topic in Stockholm, seeks to “ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.”

While governments are ultimately responsible for the delivery of water, we know it’s a massive challenge in some parts of the world. Conservation and development groups have helped support better management of freshwater ecosystems and expansion of sanitation services. But with such a significant percentage of the world’s water going into corporate and agricultural supply chains, we must both invite and insist that businesses contribute to the solutions envisioned in the SDGs.

Water stewardship provides a strong model for how this might work. Just as the SDGs provide an integrated approach to meeting social, economic and environmental needs, WWF’s approach to water stewardship is about much more than making supply chains more sustainable. Our goal is better governance of a vital shared resource that underpins healthy societies and healthy economies.

We know that companies don't engage in water stewardship to eradicate poverty. They engage in stewardship because poor water governance poses a fundamental business risk, as evidenced by a growing number of reports, surveys and analyses. However, the benefit of stewardship will extend beyond any single company, and improved management of and access to water is fundamental to improving people's livelihoods and well-being.

The SDGs recognize that failing to manage natural resources means lost economic opportunity and squandered human potential. Corporate water stewardship can help achieve these goals by putting the private sector's financial and political power behind good governance. But it’s more than just financial support and technical solutions. 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 achieving the SDGs.

For SABMiller, the SDGs are an opportunity to expand shared prosperity, because we only thrive as a business if the communities around us thrive. Communities only thrive if ecosystems thrive, and that requires better management of water. It’s an idea that forms the basis of our work, and is a platform for our partnerships with organizations like WWF.

In Stockholm, SABMiller will argue that businesses have to be innovative in forging such partnerships. Business needs to be prepared to forge new relationships and commit to being transparent and accountable in our stewardship practices, even if at times our first advances are treated with caution.

The SDGs are a framework to partner state commitments with the rigor of the private sector and the expertise of NGOs. Successfully implementing the goals requires us to be bolder in exploring how our skills and resources can be combined for the best impact and to achieve real scale. Implementation is, of course, what business does. Add the combined local experience and global perspective of an organization like WWF and the policy and infrastructure support that governments provide, and you have a recipe for scalable, transformational change.

Image credit: Flickr/Vinoth Chendar

André Fourie is Senior Manager of Environmental Value for SABMiller plc. André joined the sustainability team at SABMiller plc in 2013. Previously he was Head of Sustainable Development at our South African business, SAB Ltd. He was formerly the Chief Executive Officer of the National Business Initiative (NBI) for seven years, from 2003. The NBI is a business coalition of 140 leading South African and multi-national corporations dedicated to a sustainable future. He currently chairs the Strategic Water Partners Network (SWPN) in South Africa.

Stuart Orr is Head of Water Stewardship for WWF. Stuart has been with WWF since 2006 and works with the private sector on a range of water related activities, from water footprint to public policy engagement. Stuart has published numerous papers on water measurement, agricultural policy and water-related risk, and is currently co-drafting policy guidelines for the private sector as part of the UN CEO Water Mandate. Stuart has also recently joined the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council for water.

Previous to life with WWF, he researched agricultural rice systems in West Africa and worked for many years in the private sector in Asia and the US. Stuart holds an MSc in Environment and Development from the School of International Development at the University of East Anglia and is currently based in Switzerland where he works at WWF-International as a Manager in the Freshwater Team.

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