Tom Williams, Director of Water at WBCSD, Alexandra Knezovich, Director of Operations at Toilet Board Coalition & Michael Alexander, Head of Water, Environment and Agriculture Sustainability at Diageo and Vice Chair of WASH4Work Coalition sat down to discuss WBCSD’s call to action for the business community and how WASH4Work can support businesses on their journey.
Michael Alexander: Tom, WBCSD has just set out a bold call to action to businesses around the world to transform the way they do business. Can you kick us off by telling us a bit more about this piece?
Tom Williams: Certainly. The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), a CEO-led organization of over 200 leading multinational companies, has recently launched Vision 2050: Time to Transform. It provides business with a framework for action so that it can lead the transformations needed to realize a world in which 9+ billion people live well, within planetary boundaries, by 2050. The report provides the business community with comprehensive and practical guidance on what it will take to make transformation happen. At its heart are nine transformation pathways covering the areas of business activity that are essential to society – for instance, Energy, Living Spaces, Food, and, of course, Water & Sanitation. Each transformation pathway has its own vision, a series of key transitions essential to the achievement of that vision, and actions for business to focus its efforts on in the next 10 years.
Alexandra Knezovich: We were thrilled to see that ‘Water and Sanitation’ is one of the key transformation areas put forward in WBCSD’s Vision 2050 and WASH is one of the ten business action areas critical for achieving the vision for Water & Sanitation: ‘Thriving aquatic ecosystems that support food, energy and public health for all’. Global business leaders today are fully aware of the vital role water plays in their operations, in their supply chains, and the lives of their customers. Sanitation is no different – it helps to ensure the health, well-being and productivity of individuals. What many leaders may not be aware of is the valuable resources captured through sanitation systems. As we transition global systems to regenerative approaches, the energy, nutrients and water captured by sanitation systems offer solutions to agriculture and operations outfits in desperate need – all while helping to provide more sustainable sanitation services to those without.
Michael: I agree, Alexandra, there is a lack of awareness about sanitation resources. Not only about how they can be managed in a circular fashion and use to produce soil conditioners to be used in agriculture; but also, in very innovative and unexpected ways. I think you have an example in the context of COVID-19?
Alexandra Knezovich: 2020 enrolled us all in a crash course on the importance of hand hygiene. We have seen first-hand how public health and infectious diseases can bring our supply chains and communities to a standstill. Again, WASH holds inspiring keys – we’ve seen a boom in wastewater surveillance for SARS CoV-2 and related innovations. Sanitation operators in public and private settings are looking at the role sanitation systems can play in monitoring the spread of infectious diseases or related public health indicators in the future.
Tom: At WBCSD we recognize how critical WASH is to public health and that if it is compromised it has significant socio-economic impacts. Yet billions of people every day still do not have access to safe and clean water for drinking or washing, toilets and basic hygiene requirements to ensure that they stay healthy and well. The private sector creates 9 out of 10 jobs in developing countries. As such, business can play a significant to positively impact billions of people every day, including those who work in their factories, farms, stores and offices, who supply and distribute their goods, and who buy and consume their products and services. As well as WASH providing a critical public service, there are also opportunities to create additional value through recovering resources from waste streams, including nutrients, energy and water. Business can partner with their surrounding communities to help supply these water and sanitation services by recognizing the value of the resources produced.
Michael: Absolutely, Tom. Working with communities to ensure a more sustainable and equitable future is a key priority for Diageo. In collaboration with WaterAid, Diageo has helped transform the lives of over 80,000 people to date, but there is still more to be done. In Myanmar, for example, we are funding a women-led project to provide 10,000 people with access to clean water in households and healthcare facilities and to deliver educational and entrepreneurial opportunities in peri-urban Yangon, where many women migrant workers reside. Such a community-wide project generates transformative and sustainable change, fostering more equitable opportunities for the communities we work with.
Tom: And we have a unique, but rapidly closing window of opportunity for action in the decade ahead. WBCSD and the 42 business leaders that signed Vision 2050, are making a collective call to global business, stressing: “Business can lead. Business can forge the collaborations required to drive change. It can… but more than that, it must. It is in business’s interest to pursue the transformations set out in Vision 2050 – because its long-term success depends on thriving societies to trade with, and a healthy planet for us all to exist on.”
Alexandra: The global business community has the power to turn this vision into reality. WASH4Work, in partnership with WBCSD, is mobilizing business action to address WASH challenges in the workplace, in communities where workers live and across supply chains. And is a key commitment of the WASH Pledge, Tom?
Tom: Yes, that’s correct. WBCSD has been encouraging private sector action through the WASH Pledge launched in 2013. The Pledge is a commitment made by businesses to ensure access to safe and reliable facilities for water, sanitation and hygiene for all employees in all premises under their direct control and support partners across their value chains and communities that surround workplaces, within three years of signature. At present 180 signatories have signed the Pledge covering around 3.5 million employees globally in 170 countries.
Michael: Diageo is proud to be Vice Chair of WASH4Work and we fully support the WASH Pledge. WASH4work is a coalition of public and private-sector stakeholders committed to mobilizing business to improve access to WASH. It offers a community for businesses to work together and learn from each other’s efforts to fulfill the WASH Pledge. It enables connection with WASH sector leaders who can help businesses identify the solutions that are fit to their purpose and priorities, establish WASH-related targets and measuring their impact. This further aids in collaborating with stakeholder groups to enhance water and sanitation related data availability which is critical to highlight the urgency, drive action and monitor progress in achievement of Vision 2050.