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World Water Week 2015 Highlights Water Issues of Importance to Industry

World Water Week (WWW) is a major conference that is organized each year by the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) in Stockholm, Sweden. The conference enables leaders from academic, political, NGO, and business sectors to address emerging global water issues. Society’s need for water around the world, the quantity and quality of water supplies, and various use and management practices are placed on the table, with a view towards discerning and/or highlighting perceived policy needs.

World Water Week 2015 (August 23-26, 2015, Stockholm) attracted 3,300 participants from 125 countries. Although CGLI did not participate in the conference this year, summaries of workshops and panel presentations provided by SIWI, and discussions with colleagues who did attend, reflect the participants’ sense of urgency in developing water policy to address global water challenges. Participants called for action both from policymakers and at the local scale to improve water management around the world, especially in the face of climate change. As noted by Sweden’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Climate and Environment, “If waters are not managed properly and water resources management is not well integrated in climate efforts, climate impacts will have a significant effect on our societies – it is a challenge for all countries.” “Climate change is water change,” added SIWI’s Executive Director.

Issues raised at WWW are believed to influence or at least inform water policy around the world. Some of the issues that were raised at this year’s conference and may be of particular interest to companies in the Great Lakes region include the following:

  • Access to water as a core human right: Several presenters urged policymakers to regard water as a core human right and to force accountability into policies that allow access to water resources. A key concern regarding world water supplies is meeting the challenge of population growth and feeding the poor. NGO presenters noted that companies play a crucial role in reducing water shortage risks. Some proposed policies that would condition water withdrawal on improved watershed sustainability.
  • Water stewardship as a legal obligation: One influential speaker noted that progress in corporate water stewardship (as measured by the use of water stewardship tools and frameworks) is limited by the fact that water stewardship programs so far are voluntary. She urged policymakers to make water stewardship a legal obligation, regardless of cost. “If we can make that transition, so that the aim of successful business and successful economies is sustainable development, then we’ve got the environment and economy happening together,” said Ruth Mathews, Executive Director of the Water Footprint Network.
  • Articulating the business value of water: A principal theme of many conference presentations was that companies must increase their effort to evaluate the business impacts of water. As noted by Alexis Morgan of World Wildlife Fund, who has worked with CGLI on industrial water stewardship:

Not enough companies are quantifying or talking about how water is impacting their businesses. We need to focus on how water is perceived and identify the value others attach to it. Understanding how others derive value is really critical in the notion of water stewardship.

In a session convened by the Alliance for Water Stewardship, presenters and participants encouraged companies to integrate effective water management into supply chain cost structures. Information about the value of water also was viewed as critical for developing creative mechanisms for financing infrastructure improvements.

  • Water as a business opportunity: Another theme of the conference was that water scarcity and water use present tremendous opportunities for innovation and business growth. As one presenter noted, “[c]aring about nature is a brilliant business opportunity…. because it ultimately is the only way to make a long term economic profit. A call for “green water solutions” to provide the “key to sustainable development.” Participants recognized that there is a need to find value in all types of water, including waters handled in wastewater treatment plants, and urged business leaders to “view all water as valuable, and to match different types of water to different uses…using grey and black water for industrial applications or power generation.”
  • Shifting the perspective from resource allocation to shared responsibility and stewardship: Presenters emphasized the need for a new perspective on water use and quality that views all water as a finite, sustainable, and shared resource. One presenter from the US Department of State emphasized the need to look across the suite of global water issues (e.g., energy, food, regional security) and find diplomatic solutions that all countries can live by. “We need to build a synergy between global actors, big corporates and local existing water users,” added a presenter from SIWI.

The theme for World Water Week 2016 is “Water for Sustainable Growth,” an important topic in the Great Lakes region. CGLI will continue to follow and participate in these important conversations with a view toward further integrating water resource management into the region’s economic development agenda. More information about World Water Week is available at www.worldwaterweek.org.