Sustainability 100+ | About Sustainability 100+
Water Stewardship represents a model for overall sustainability. Here's how


Water Stewardship represents a model for overall sustainability. Here's how

We are now in the fifth year of the Water Action Decade, declared by the UN General Assembly in 2015, and set to last from 2018 to 2028. While many of its objectives and associated SDGs are yet to be fulfilled, a global pandemic in the interim and a renewed urgency to conserve our most precious resource have made water stewardship a fertile testing ground for modes of sustainable development. Water stewardship initiatives provide case studies of gaps that exist between positive intent and sustainability initiatives, and possible reasons behind it. For example, in a 2021 survey of businesses with revenues of more than $1 billion by GreenBiz, 92% of respondents were willing to take steps to manage their water resources better. But the same survey highlighted how these positive intentions get mired in differentiated responsibilities and the lack of a clear business case for specific interventions. It's analogous to the challenges sustainability initiatives face in general, and yields certain basic lessons that can help streamline our sustainability efforts.

Collective Action Is Key

The advent of a sustainable future might be a global priority, but its constituent mechanisms are driven and influenced by local factors. Water stewardship initiatives, which have a hyper-local support structure, have shown how all stakeholders within a community must come together to find solutions. The Namame Gange initiative, for example, is essentially a local water and environmental conservation project which has acquired a prominent national stature through the active participation of various stakeholders, including corporates and the Union Government. Different CSR initiatives by businesses to rehabilitate the ghats, clean the river surface, and improve urban sanitation, to name a few examples, have contributed to a unified vision for the rejuvenation of the Ganga river basin.

Sustainability initiatives thrive on such collaborative efforts, which blend in policy interventions with corporate innovation. Something similar can be observed in the successful Wallasea Island Wild Coast project on the south-east coast of England, where nearly 670 hectares of coastal wetlands have been restored. The project was a collaboration between Crossrail Ltd. and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), which allowed the former to recycle up to 98% of excavated material dug up during the construction of tunnels to help create a secure and vital ecosystem for native bird and plant species.

Transparency Is The Solution

The right incentives for sustainability are only possible when industries adopt higher standards for their impact reporting and disclosures. The significant jump in the number of corporate disclosures in the latest CDP India Disclosure Report demonstrates investors' growing need for data on a company's sustainability impact, especially in the realm of water security. Taking a cue from these trends, Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) will soon introduce mandatory climate disclosure under the new Business Responsibility and Sustainability Report (BRSR) disclosure norms. For companies already disclosing their water management impacts, it will be an easy transition to make.

These disclosures are the basis of transparent, accountable action plans from businesses and policymakers towards fulfilling India's COP26 commitments and going carbon neutral. They may soon become part of a harmonized global sustainability reporting framework; an effort which is being led by the International Sustainability Standards Board (ISSB). It's building on the Task Force on Climate Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) framework and the work of sustainability standard-setters to develop a comprehensive global baseline of high quality disclosure standards to meet investors' data needs.


Show Me The Money

The lack of access to adequate capital is one of the primary reasons why sustainability initiatives fail to scale up. To meet the financing needs of water stewardship projects, new investment channels have been created by corporates and NGOs, which pair funding with awareness and training programs. AB InBev has tied up with The Nature Conservancy to spearhead the creation of 100 water funds across the globe. This model aims to channel resources to build and strengthen the water conservation capacities of local and national organizations in water-stressed regions.

In India, Small Industries Development Bank of India (SIDBI) has emerged as a bulwark of green investments with its Sustainable Finance Scheme. It's applicable to MSME units which are involved in renewable energy, waste management and manufacture of green machinery and equipment. India also has a retinue of private ESG funds, which are trying to reassert their influence in the wake of net outflows of Rs. 315 crore in FY 2021-22.

While water stewardship initiatives might not always be fit to be transposed to solve other sustainability challenges, they provide a deeper understanding of the underlying factors that shape sustainable solutions. For corporate leaders and policymakers, it's a guide to essential systems and processes that can bring sustainability to the way we build, produce and consume things. These insights are important, if humanity is to successfully navigate the biggest paradigmatic shift in our lives since the Industrial Revolution, and set course to a healthier, more mindful future.