How do we alleviate poverty and meet the needs of a growing population in a world with finite natural resources?
This crucial question underpinned our dialogue on how to achieve a more sustainable use of water at the United Nations Global Compact's Nordic Network meeting in Stockholm on 24-25 April. The UN Global Compact assembles businesses committed to ten principles in the areas of human rights, labour, environment and anti-corruption. This specific two-day meeting gathered members of the Nordic Network and over a hundred company representatives took part in the intensive dialogue. I was invited as a panelist in a session on water, ecosystems and companies. In addition to SIWI, Skanska and Xylem presented their work on water issues.
Water needs to be integrated as a cross-cutting theme in any sustainable business model. There was consensus in the panel that with today's increasing competition over scarce water resources, we risk depleting a resource that lies at the very core of the green growth. Due to climate change, more than 3 billion people might be living in water-stressed countries by 2025. If the present trends continue, 2 out of 3 persons on Earth will live under water stressed conditions just 13 years from now.
With improved understanding of the acute need for more sustainable water use comes a responsibility to act. Fortunately, there are many good examples of businesses leading the way by incorporating water in more "water-wise" models. One such initiative is the Sweden Textile Water Initiative (STWI), consisting of SIWI and 32 leading companies in the textile and leather sector that have developed joint guidelines for sustainable water management "from thread and leather to the readymade product". These companies take on an important holistic perspective on water by including its impact throughout the supply chain.
After presenting STWI's work, several companies approached me and said that they would be interested in engaging in similar initiatives. There seemed to be an overall agreement that this is an interesting approach to collaborating on water issues. The future will tell to what extent, and exactly how, the participants of the session will work actively on water issues - but one thing is clear and that is that the "business of business" is no longer just business in the traditional sense of generating shareholder value. Today, businesses are urged to - and to an increasing extent - willing to, take greater responsibility for contributing to a more sustainable use of natural resources to support a more "water wise" world.
Josephine Gustafsson, SIWI