In September 2015, the United Nations announced the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These 17 goals are comprehensive and state development targets for the world through 2030, seeking to solve significant problems, from poverty and climate change to water and inequalities of many forms.
In particular, SDG Goal 6 focuses on water with the overarching goal to “Ensure access to water and sanitation for all” with important targets that go beyond universal access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene to include improving water quality and efficiency, protecting ecosystems and managing water resources sustainably, with cooperation and community engagement throughout.
Our water stewardship strategy aligns with and supports efforts to meet SDG 6, as we detail below.
SDG Target: By 2030, achieve universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all.
A key part of our water stewardship strategy is sustainable communities with RAIN as a great example, brining safe water to six million people by 2020.
SDG Target: By 2030, achieve access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and end open defecation, paying special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations.
Many of our safe water projects also address sanitation and hygiene, with a focus on females, especially in adolescent-aged school settings.
SDG Target: By 2030, improve water quality by reducing pollution, eliminating dumping and minimizing release of hazardous chemicals and materials, halving the proportion of untreated wastewater and substantially increasing recycling and safe reuse globally.
We require full treatment of process wastewater before discharge to the local environment, even when not mandated by local regulation, and have achieved nearly full compliance with this strict standard. Also, our water efficiency program seeks to maximize water reuse in our plants and local communities.
SDG Target: By 2030, substantially increase water-use efficiency across all sectors and ensure sustainable withdrawals and supply of freshwater to address water scarcity and substantially reduce the number of people suffering from water scarcity.
We have improved water efficiency in our operations annually for 13 years, for a total of 27% improvement since 2004. We have a new goal set on a 2010 baseline toward a 25% improvement by 2020 – we have achieved 12% improvement since 2010.
We share best practices in water efficiency and reuse with other business through platforms such as the Beverage Industry Environmental Roundtable (BIER).
Our Source Water Protection Program is designed to ensure that our plants do not negatively impact the ability of others to access a sufficient quantity and quality of water in a given location. It goes further to require that plants engage others to seek solutions in situations where water allocation and use is unsustainable.
Lastly, our Sustainable Agriculture Guiding Principles (SAGPs) require total water use is reduced by implementing water saving practices, including water reuse and recycling, where possible, and, where irrigation is used, the most efficient system as is technically available and financially affordable is implemented.
SDG Target: By 2030, implement integrated water resources management (IWRM) at all levels, including through transboundary cooperation as appropriate.
Our Source Water Protection Program uses IWRM as a framework for holistic solutions by all water users across a shared watershed. IWRM is also a key component of the solution set proposed for water policy reform in our efforts with the 2030 Water Resources Group.
SDG Target: By 2020, protect and restore water-related ecosystems, including mountains, forests, wetlands, rivers, aquifers and lakes.
In addition to helping communities and ecosystems adapt to a changing climate, ecosystem conservation is the primary way we achieve progress on our Replenish goal. The current estimate is that our watershed protection projects implemented by the end of 2015 are providing a Replenish benefit of approximately 149.9 billion liters per year. In addition, these projects are estimated to reduce sediment yield in 2015 by over 2.6 million metric tons per year and approximately 87.7 metric tons of other pollutants, such as pesticides and nutrients.
SDG Target: By 2030, expand international cooperation and capacity-building support to developing countries in water- and sanitation-related activities and programmes, including water harvesting, desalination, water efficiency, wastewater treatment, recycling and reuse technologies.
We openly share the details of all of our water projects. Not only in the spirit of transparency but, hopefully, to inspire others to act and to share best practices, as well as lessons learned. Our partnerships, especially with WWF and UNDP, are designed to share, scale and replicate solutions.
Given the ubiquitous nature of our business and local footprint of our operations, we are able to leverage our experience and take action on water globally.
SDG Target: Support and strengthen the participation of local communities in improving water and sanitation management.
Community engagement is a hallmark of our approach to water projects. Our non-export, local production and sales business model makes our plants a part of the local community and helps strengthen the community’s ownership of water access and conservation efforts we support.
Moving Beyond the MDGs
The SDGs leverage the success and expand the ambition of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The MDGS established global recognition of social and environmental challenges, as well as a commitment to make significant progress. The MDGs were also important as a framework for business to shape their efforts in support of the goals. As an example, the MDG goal on improving access to safe water and sanitation was a critical input into the inspiration and strategy for our safe water access projects, such as RAIN.
There was mixed progress, globally, in reaching the 2015 deadline for the MDGs but their establishment was nonetheless significant as it considerably raised awareness, generated resources and mobilized action. Importantly, what was achieved has considerable benefits to the lives and livelihoods of millions of people.
The SDGs present an opportunity to leverage the considerable momentum of the MDGs along with knowledge and expertise in places where substantial progress already exists on a given SDG goal. In particular for water, we see solutions that can be reapplied elsewhere; not reinventing the wheel but learning from our collective experience.
As a result, we played an active role in helping provide input to the development of SDG 6. Working with other business, even competitors, we joined efforts by the CEO Water Mandate and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development to discuss the role of business and solutions we could bring to water challenges. We also leveraged our partnerships with the United Nations Development Program and UN-HABITAT to provide case studies and demonstrate the power of government, civil society and business working together.
Meeting all the goals for SDG 6 does seem daunting. However, view feel that despite the challenges and significant threats to the future of water, we should remain optimistic, yet, grounded in the reality of what we can achieve. As citizens, governments and businesses, we still have time to course-correct. Together, we can act in a responsible manner that puts the right infrastructure and methods in place to effectively source, manage and replenish water around the world, leaving an adequate fresh supply for future generations.
To do that, businesses must drive sustainable solutions at scale while linking development goals to core business interests, identifying and managing their impact and collaborating with governments and civil society. Governments must show strong leadership in overcoming silos, ensuring adequate funding and accountability towards political commitments, strengthening institutions, acting as regulators and set incentives to ensure cost-effective solutions and good management.
Solving water supply, quality and access gaps will require tough decisions, in many places and across all societal segments. We believe that governments should commit to an open process of analyses, debate and eventual reform and investment. The approach used by the 2030 Water Resources Group (2030WRG) is a useful model.