Business-as-usual is now no longer possible with the crisis that is faced by our global water resources. I had the privilege of attending Stockholm Water Week 2016 at the end of August this year. Having recently completed the academic portion of my MBA and now moving into a role with the World Wildlife Fund’s International water stewardship team there are some big challenges that face the business community, which will play an important role in our collective response to this crisis. As I reflect back on a week of seminars, meetings, discussions and networking, there are five key challenges that seem to form the cornerstones for our response.
This was a common discussion thread throughout the week, which acknowledged that in order to make progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goal 6 (SDG6) there needs to be more engagement between the private and public sectors. Both parties have strengths to bring to the table, but we need to remember that both sides have very different sources of motivations. While that is not necessarily a negative, it does impose challenges in how we engage with the public sector in order to make progress towards achieving SDG6.
2. The “absence” of the SME voice
While the business community was represented here in Stockholm, it was comprised mainly of the usual global corporations. It was encouraging to see the thought-leadership that some of these players were contributing towards the discussions, but they only represented a “small” part of the business community. They clearly demonstrated that there is a business case for engaging in corporate water stewardship (CWS), but the SME voice seemed to be “absent”. While some of these SMEs play a small role in the larger supply chains of large corporations, leaving the conversation there is too simplistic. We can’t forget that we need to find ways to better support SMEs in building their business cases that will support greater engagement in CWS actions.
3. The big shift needed to a system approach
We consistently heard from large global corporates about the CWS work they were involved in outside the fence of their primary operations. Many are finding novel ways to start addressing the shared watershed risks they face, but we need to make sure that developed projects take a systems view that prioritises the overall health of the watershed. As an example – while drip irrigation may reduce water use and increase crop yields, this approach may end up reducing the amount of water available to filter back into the groundwater networks negatively impacting the health of the overall watershed.
4. Moving from collaboration to collective action
CWS has two-dimensions, firstly it aims to reduce the risk exposure but it is also a tool to manage the risks that are shared between users within a watershed. Business finds itself at an intersection between the demands for short-term growth and the recognition of an increasingly uncertain long-term future. Collaboration between users within a watershed is quickly becoming standard business practice, rather than a simply good practice. As a business community, we need to start exploring ways in which we can now convert this collaboration into tangible collective actions and share the lessons we learn along the way.
5. A case for context-based sustainability strategies
While the majority of the conversations at Stockholm referred to water security as a global issue – the actions that will secure our water future will be more locally driven. There is an increasing acceptance of the concept that business must begin to operate within the planetary boundaries of this critical natural capital. However, the specific boundaries change depending on the location. Referred to as either context-based or science-based sustainability, there is a greater need for the business community and watershed users to better understand their individual local boundaries and directly their actions in order to ensure they operate within these boundaries.
These were my five key takeaway points from my time here at Stockholm Water Week 2016. None of these challenges has an easy or quick solution, but I was greatly encouraged by the enthusiasm demonstrated by water professionals globally to continue to engage with these challenges as a collective. I would welcome feedback from other professionals, who either attended Stockholm Water Week and have insights to share or any other interested professionals.
Rylan Dobson is an MBA candidate at Simon Fraser University’s Beedie School of Business. He is currently completing his MBA internship with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) International’s Freshwater Stewardship team. While undertaking his MBA he acted as a Director on the Executive Committee of SFU’s Net Impact Chapter and was a Beedie student Ambassador. Rylan’s work with the WWF will involve working with well-known global organizations in order to support them improve their corporate water stewardship programs and build their capacity in the area of context-based water targets within their sustainability strategies. Rylan has a post-graduate degree in Biotechnology and is an experienced project management professional. Contact Rylan on LinkedIn, email or through Twitter.