Providing water, sanitation and hygiene for better business

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If companies fully understood the business benefits of providing access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) they would all be doing it – and disclosing it. So says new analysis by WaterAid and CDP. Ruth Romer, Private Sector Advisor at WaterAid, explains.

Access to water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) is a significant global challenge. 844 million people – one in nine – do not have clean water close to home, and 2.3 billion people – almost one in three – do not have a decent toilet of their own.1  

Working in partnership and directly with the private sector has aided progress. 1.4 billion people have gained access to clean water and 1.4 billion have gained access to decent toilets since 2000.2

However, there is significant opportunity for the private sector to scale up action, accelerate progress to ensure better WASH outcomes for all, and realise tangible business benefits.

WaterAid, in collaboration with CDP, have analysed corporate responses submitted publicly to CDP’s 2015, 2016 and 2017 water information requests. This analysis provides a useful overview of the status of private sector WASH interventions, highlighting areas for improvement as well as the potential benefits for the private sector of doing so.

The analysis shines a light on the business case for private sector action on WASH and shows that, although progress is being made, more needs to be done.

Driving corporate involvement in WASH

Analysis over the three-year period highlights that companies may be underestimating water, and, specifically, WASH-related risks by not considering water issues in a holistic manner through a water stewardship lens. The analysis identified corporate-level drivers for the more effective consideration of WASH interventions in the context of water stewardship:

  • WASH risks are materialising for businesses in both direct operations and supply chains, such as reputational damage, community opposition and deterioration in employee wellbeing, highlighting the importance of effective WASH-related risk assessments and responses.
  • WASH-related opportunities being potentially beneficial for businesses and communities through, for example, increased productivity or market-opportunity.
  • Direct linkages between WASH interventions and attainment of Sustainable Development Goal 6 (SDG6), with the SDGs providing a strong framework for corporate action.

Integrating WASH

Some good practices for integrating WASH considerations into standard corporate practices were identified. Companies identified that top-down strategic leadership on WASH aided its integration into corporate strategies, and, furthermore, where a company’s water policy acknowledged the human right to water and sanitation this often translated into a better appreciation of both the risks and opportunities related to WASH.

Adherence to voluntary third-party standards was also highlighted, which illustrates the growing importance of standards being a lever of change.

There is increasing evidence to support both the direct and indirect benefits of effective WASH management and how it supports other sustainability priorities. WaterAid is currently working with Diageo, Unilever and GAP Inc. to strengthen this business case for private sector WASH interventions. The work will support the scaling-up of WASH interventions.

Both CDP and WaterAid encourage all companies to increase their level of action, reporting and disclosure on WASH in recognition of the long-term benefits for both business and communities.

1 WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) (2017). Progress on drinking water, sanitation and hygiene: 2017 update and SDG Baselines. www.unicef.org/publications/index_96611.html
2 Global Health Observatory – World Health Organization (2017). www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs391/en/