SDG #6: Ensure access to safe water and clean sanitation for all
Sustainable Development Goals Blog Series
On January 1st, 2016, the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development officially came into force. Over the next 15 years, with these 17 goals, countries will combine efforts to end all forms of poverty, fight inequalities and tackle climate change. In this article we aim to familiarize you with SDG #6: Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all, and what actions your organization can take to achieve this goal.
By Jennifer Muller and Erica Kostense Smit | 07-09-2017
SDG Goal #6 stands for access to safe water sanitation and sound management of freshwater ecosystems as they are essential to human health and to environmental sustainability and economic prosperity according to the UN1. Over 2 billion people currently live in areas defined as having excess water stress and it is expected that in some areas this water stress will increase and eventually amount to water scarcity2.
We identify a tremendous potential for the private sector to contribute to SDG 6. How? Hopefully we can inspire you with this blog.
The benefits of clean water and sanitation may sound obvious but go deeper than just aiding basic human hygiene and health. If we continue like this, the predictions are that 1 in 4 people will be effected by recurring water shortages, and according to the UNDP (United Nation development program)3, this also leads to food and energy security as well as environmental health. These aspects all have economic consequences.
In many countries, especially women pay a high price for the water shortage and lack of sanitation: either through time consuming water collection (in sub-Saharan Africa women spend 40 billion hours a year collecting water which is the equivalent of the French workforce for one year) or not having access to proper sanitation at schools. Women therefore tend to run a risk of losing out on proper education, which could make half the workforce not as skilled or available as it could have been.
Many businesses depend on water. They either need it for their primary processes (like beverage companies, farmers or textile companies), sourcing of products that depend highly on water for production (like fashion or apparel industry), or their consumers need water to use their products properly (think shower products, food and beverages). These companies do not wish to cease production due to local water shortages nor do they want their client to use their products less often as a result.
Find below some actions how businesses can contribute to the realization of SDG 6:
Know and use your supply chain
Water is a source that most companies can directly influence because of the important role in the value chain. If businesses want to influence water usage and water supply, they need to do two things. Firstly, they need to identify water usage within their own business for both primary and supporting processes (such as toilets and catering). Secondly, it is important to clearly map the water usage and access to clean sanitation for employees within the supply chain as well as identify the span of control in that supply chain. This can contribute to the determination of where and how the most impact can be made. Actions can vary from partnering with local suppliers to changing the sourcing strategy, design of (primary) production processes to even changing business models (ex. transition from less ‘disposable’ fashionable clothing collections to more timeless designs) in such a way that water usage or water pollution is drastically reduced.
It is key to be aware of the broad span of control companies can have on water demand and supply as well as access to clean sanitation for employees and their families. For instance, companies in the construction industry can contribute largely in terms of preventing water pollution, since this industry is responsible for around 4% of the particulate emissions with more water pollutions incidents than any other industry4.
Share your knowledge
On topics like water, which are quite complex because of the interdependence with other topics (e.g. inequality and climate change), it is key to share and enhance knowledge.
Businesses can play an important role in this. Reporting on its own performance is a good start; reporting on performances in the supply chain an ultimate goal. Reporting guidelines like the General Reporting Initiative (GRI) could support organizations in disclosing data with specific indicators defined for the topic of water. Sharing performance could act as an incentive for organizations to set targets and actively manage progress. Companies that are already reporting on their water performance are among others Nestlé and Heineken.
Sharing knowledge can also be achieved by training and educating employees. Businesses could train their employees, for example, on water usage at home and at work. Water usage at home is especially important in developing countries, where knowledge of water usage in household situation is often not as high as desired.
Commercial opportunities: offering clean water and sanitation
Water scarcity solutions are eminently the type of solutions that allow businesses to get to the forefront and to create change on a larger sale via market driven solutions. One example is the Toilet Board Coalition (TBC), a global business led coalition of companies, government, experts and NGO’s working together on developing commercially sustainable and scalable solutions to contribute to the lack of sanitation5.
A clear example of a commercial solution are the designed chemical home toilets, offering an alternative to paid-for public toilets, designed by Unilever, used in Ghana as part of the Clean Team project. Almost 8000 people are already using the toilets. The project has also created employment for almost 40 people, stimulating the local economy. Projects and research focusing on the circular economy and water management / sanitations are also occurring. An example of this is Veolia using recycled wastewater from the Gramman reservoir to produce potable water for the city of Windhoek in Namibia6.
Sustainable Development Goals Blog Series
This blog is part of the Sustainable Development Blog Series: a blog series that highlights the 17 SDGs one by one on a biweekly basis. In these blogs you will find more information about each SDG, why it is important for your organisation to contribute to the achievement of it, and specific examples of how you can do that.
For more information about the Sustainable Development Goals and what your organisation can do to contribute, please contact Anne Huibrechtse-Truijens via firstname.lastname@example.org / +31882882071