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UN Sustainable Development Goals - Goal 6

8 August 2018


 

In September 2015, the 193 countries of the UN General Assembly adopted the 2030 Development Agenda "Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development". Known as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the 169 targets which make up the 17 goals provide a framework for countries to guide their path towards a more sustainable future. Ethical Screening is investigating how companies can contribute to The Goals. This blogpost focuses on Goal 6 - Clean Water & Sanitation.

What is Goal 6?

Goal 6 aims to ensure the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all by 2030. The goal is supported by six targets, including universal access to safe and affordable drinking water, improvement of water quality by reducing pollution and addressing water scarcity through sustainable withdrawal of water. The UN estimates that over 2 billion people around the world are currently exposed to excess water stress and by 2050 this number could increase to 5 billion. The NGO Water Aid reports that, globally, 1 in 3 people currently do not have a decent toilet of their own and that 1 in 9 people do not have access to clean water close to their homes.

How can companies contribute to Goal 6?

Companies can have a significant role to play when it comes to the realisation of Goal 6. Accidental spills from oil and chemical companies, factory runoffs into rivers in urban areas and the contamination of water ways in agricultural regions from food producers through the use of pesticides, fertilizers and residue from animal waste, all contribute to the contamination of water supplies globally. In addition, global corporations involved in water intensive industries often operate in vulnerable areas already suffering from water stress, for example in parts of India, North & South Africa and the Middle East. Companies therefore have a responsibility to ensure sound water practices, for example in relation to Target 6.1 (universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all), Target 6.3 (improve water quality by reducing pollution, eliminating dumping and minimizing release of hazardous chemicals and materials) and Target 6.4 (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). Operating in local communities also provides companies with opportunities to develop technologies that can contribute towards achieving the fundamental aspects of Target 6.1, Target 6.3 as well as Target 6.4.

Companies such as Veolia, Suez Environnement and Thames Water, whose principal business relates to collection, treatment and recovery of wastewater, as well as distributing drinking water, have an obvious role to play. With a global concern related to water scarcity, other companies such as Pentair are also making water efficiency a part of their business model through their products and services. Pentair is involved in the production of water management systems which are used to increase water efficiency in irrigation, reduce flood water and wastewater pollution, and ensure efficient water supply and disposal in industrial and residential settings. The company's products are employed to achieve productivity in industries with high water use, such as aquaculture, aquaponics and agricultural operations.

Companies can also integrate water saving measures into their current product categories. Geberit manufactures cisterns with a dual flush aimed at limiting water use and waterless urinals. The use of specific certification programmes such as the Water Efficiency Label (WELL) for individual product groups allows private and public sectors to make product choices based on how efficient these products are in terms of conserving water.

Opportunities also exist for companies to offer solutions directly to the communities in areas they operate in. For example, Procter & Gamble produces and sells P&G Purifier of Water, a powder which combines flocculation and disinfection to produce safe drinking water. It removes dirt and pollutants, also killing bacteria and viruses found in polluted water such as rivers, lakes, and ponds. A single packet of powder treats 10 litres of water in 30 minutes. The purifier is an inherent part of the company's Children's Safe Drinking Water programme which distributes the sachets of powder in over 90 water-challenged countries globally.

Significant responsibility also lies with those companies relying on resources in countries already suffering from water stress. According to an Indian governmental think tank, India is experiencing a historic water crisis with around 600 million people facing acute water shortages. Companies such as PepsiCo, that operate in India must exhibit improved water stewardship. PepsiCo demonstrates this through targeted community projects that aim to replenish water used by the company, leading to a 'Positive Water Balance' where the company returns more water than it uses.

Why is Goal 6 important?

Access to clean water and sanitation is considered a human right and the UN estimated in 2015 that over 90% of the world's population enjoy access to clean water and two thirds enjoys access to improved sanitation facilities (facilities that hygienically separate human excrements from human contact). The majority of people living without such access are predominately based in rural areas and continue to be exposed to significant environmental and health risks. Furthermore, water stress affects every continent in the world.

Access to clean water and sanitation is seen as essential for eradicating poverty and ensuring equality on a global scale. The importance of Goal 6 is therefore reflected throughout the Sustainable Development Goals with water and sanitation also mentioned in Goal 1: No Poverty and Goal 4: Quality Education.

Conclusions

With droughts as a global problem, water scarcity cannot be seen as a separate issue from poverty and inequality (Goal 1) and it makes the importance of responsible water stewardship on behalf of companies operating in sensitive regions even more important. Access to appropriate sanitation facilities also go hand in hand with human health (Goal 3) and companies relying on natural resources, including fresh water, should not ignore the risks human waste from inadequate facilities pose to their business, the health of their employees and the communities in which they operate (Goal 12). In conclusion, a sustainable business model should take the Sustainable Development Goals into account in terms of its products, manufacturing processes and future business development for its own sake and for the benefit of the people, the planet and future generations.

Elisabeth Ottosen - Researcher

08/08/2018


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