2015 UN-Water Annual International Zaragoza Conference. Water and Sustainable Development: From Vision to Action. 15-17 January 2015

Business contribution to the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals related to water

Date: 16 January 2015.
Location: Etopía. Avda. Ciudad de Soria, 8. 50010 Zaragoza
Coordinators: Mai-Lan Han and Gavin Power, CEO Water Mandate

The business case

The business case for action on sustainable development has a strong starting point in corporate action for sustainable water management.1

  • Water is a non-substitutable resource: Water in itself, or the services it provides or enables, is an indispensable input for most businesses. Managing a secure access to water in the quantities needed, of the quality required and at the right time and place is essential for the very existence of almost all businesses. This becomes increasingly important as pressures on the finite quantities of water available increase. Businesses therefore have a strong interest in contributing to the responsible allocation and management of water resources, maximizing the productivity of the water they use, and minimizing the damage that might arise from discharges of water after use.
  • Water in the value chain: Water plays a similar role throughout the whole value chain of industrial production and commercial activity as well as the multiple interactions with communities and stakeholders at all levels. Businesses have an interest and responsibility to understand these complex relationships and conduct their activities accordingly.

Businesses function at a key juncture in ensuring sustainable development policies are implemented due to the critical and active role they play in transforming resources into products and services required by societies.  This case is further strengthened with the realization that business contribution specifically on sustainable development also plays a key role in businesses’ long term longevity and success. The business case revolves around a number of areas:

  • Ensuring Good Water Governance:  Businesses that depend upon water realize that meeting development goals necessitates addressing aspects of water sustainability more broadly including: improving water governance systems and addressing water security and water quality; all issues of importance for addressing water-related business risk.
  • Healthier employees: Business action to ensure adequate water and sanitation in the workplace provides the opportunity for companies to ensure their employees are sufficiently cared for.  Healthier employees contribute to overall long-term company productivity through less frequent sick days and absence of costs associated with the need to replace or train new employees.
  • Vibrant communities: Beyond their employees, businesses also realize that healthy communities have a positive impact on their businesses.  Businesses are engaging in activities that focus on not only employees, but increasingly the families of their employees and communities at large.  Healthy families ensure a high level of productivity in their workplace while vibrant communities often serve to bolster not only a company’s social license to operate, but also a healthy customer base. 
  • Triple Bottom Line:  Business realize that a strong business case can be made that helping to achieve sustainable development goals offers opportunities to create innovative new products and markets.  Companies, such as Unilever, are taking this approach through the creation of new products that use less water (such as detergents or soaps) to help meet water and sanitation goals while also creating a new market for their products. 

The business role

Since the 2012 meeting, the business community has continued to engage with UN agencies towards refining how water-related Sustainable Development Goals might be advanced as well as to identify key mechanisms through which the business community can facilitate their implementation. These processes have affirmed businesses commitment to a standalone goal related to water and sanitation as well as focusing this goal around WASH, water security, quality, and governance.

As part of these discussions, the business community has affirmed that their existing and planned water stewardship practices help advance the implementation of these goals. Indeed, the core tenets and practices of stewardship align closely with the proposed water-related aspects of the Post-2015 agenda, as demonstrated in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Water Stewardship and the Post-2015 Development Agenda2

Distribution of households by person responsible for water collection, by region and urban/rural areas 2005/2007

Business actions internally, in their values chains, through collective action and partnerships in the communities and watersheds in which they operate, and through social investments allow companies to play a strong proactive role towards achieving water-related sustainable development goals.

The tools

These approaches are often supported by a variety of tools, such as water assessment tools 3 that focus on how companies can understand their water-related business risks, tools that help companies engage and cooperate with others (such as the CEO Water Mandate’s Water Action Hub), and specific guidance on particular issues, such as collective action, disclosure, and respecting the human rights to water and sanitation.  Together, these core elements with their supporting tools and mechanisms provide a robust array of options for how companies can support the implementation of the Post-2015 development agenda.

The focus

The focus of the sessions of the Business Pillar in relation to the four streams is:

  • For Water and Sanitation Services (WASH)  - Human Rights to Water and Sanitation
  • For Water Resources Management: Addressing Water Availability
  • For Water Quality: Effluent, Wastewater Treatment, and Reuse
  • For Risk:  Business Solutions for Climate and Water Risk Mitigation

The objectives

The objectives of the Business sessions are:

  • To understand how existing corporate water stewardship practices help achieve the post-2015 sustainable development goals on water
  • To share tools, good practice, and case studies related to business corporate water stewardship and sustainable development
  • To explore how good practice might be scaled up to achieve sustainable development goals
  • To further understand and build the business case for action by exploring the role that businesses can play while also discussing the role of other stakeholders


The sessions are designed to provide a space for dialogue. The sessions will have a 15-20 minutes overview presentation by the moderator/convener of the sessions. This overview will include information on the specific cases prepared by the panelists.  The panelists will not be making presentations during the sessions.  The panel discussion will take place around some questions prepared by the session convener. In answering, the panelists will make reference to their case study and will highlight those tools related to finance and economic instruments, capacity development, technology, and governance that are innovative/valuable for the SDGs implementation. The overall session duration is 2 hours. A reporter for the session will provide some final highlights/wrap up of the session.


08:30-09:00 Introduction to the day and the sessions
Gavin Power, CEO Water Mandate

09:00-10:50: Business Solutions for Climate and Water Risk Mitigation

Session Convener: Paul Reig (Water Resources Institute)

Water related disasters, such has floods or droughts, can significantly impact global trade, supply chains and companies. For example, floods in South East Asia, or droughts in Pakistan and the U.S. drove caused increases in agricultural commodity prices and supply chain disruptions. In response to this, the private sector has developed innovative approaches to help identify and mitigate the business risks associated with water-related disasters. 

The private sector has also played a role in disaster preparedness and response through the development of financial products, insurance packages, and technology that allow for greater resilience to natural disasters. During this session, participants from the business community will share their experience in utilizing tools and guidelines that can also help government, civil society, and others, identify and reduce risks of water-related disasters for the implementation of the post-2015 agenda for water.

This session has two objectives:

  • Showcase tools, guidelines and other resources used by business to help reduce risks of water-related disasters.
  • Identify key opportunities and barriers for these to be scaled across sectors and adopted to implement the post-2015 agenda for water.

Questions for Discussion:

  • What are the available tools most commonly used by business to identify and reduce risks of water-related disasters?
  • How can the identified tools be implemented by governments, civil society and other stakeholders during the post-2015 agenda for water?

Overview presentation

  • Paul Reig, Water Resources Institute

Invited Speakers:

  • Finance: Katalin Solymosi,  Structured and Corporate Finance Department Inter-American Development Bank (IDB)
  • Capacity Development : Bert Share, Beer & Better World
  • Technology : Cate Lamb, CDP (Confirmed); Anja von der Ropp, WIPO
  • Governance : Gavin Power CEO Water Mandate; Cate Lamb, CDP; Stu Orr, WWF

Q&A with participants

Wrap Up and Closing

>> Business contribution to managing climate and water risks: Tools and lessonsPDF Document

>> Business contribution to managing climate and water risks: Tools and lessons learnedPDF document

10:50 – 11:10: Coffee Break

11:10-13:00 Water Quality and Water Reuse

Session Convener: Jack Moss (Aquafed)

The session will focus on how water quality issues are at the core of corporate water management.
On the “water user” side, most multinational corporations have stringent water quality controls for their own operations and facilities, and water quality continues to be an area of intense focus, particularly in companies’ extensive supply chains. In response, certain industries are taking proactive steps by including water quality management in their own activities, in supplier codes of conduct, in contracts, as well as through training and capacity building measures with their most important or tier 1 supplier groups.  The long term objectives are that these efforts will be “passed-down” along the supply chain thereby upscaling the reach of their programs. Corporations are also investing in water management and water-reuse technology, as well as finding alternative uses for waste water that benefit the economy and the environment, particularly in areas of high-water stress.  Certain sectors, such as the apparel sector, companies are developing a broad coalition of different brands to deal with water quality concerns affecting the entire industry by focusing on particular topics such as toxics, or by focusing on particular regions where there is shared interest, such as South Asia.  Through coordinated action that includes leveraging financial resources across the industry group, developing capacity building and training modules, and implementation of new technologies to monitor water quality issues, the companies are working in tandem, for example by focusing on shared textile mills, to tackle concerns over water quality. Many other examples exist in other sectors, such as agro-food, mining and metals, petro-chemical and even the information technology industries.

On the “supply” side, water technology and water services companies are continually developing and innovating with methods, processes and technologies aimed at improving water quality, water productivity and the ability to remove an ever increasing range of polluting substances from used water and at the same time reduce the environmental footprints, make water available for subsequent uses and recover and reuse the resources removed from polluted water.

Overview Presentation

  • Jack Moss, Aquafed

Invited Speakers:

  • Brigitte Dittrich-Kraemer, BASF
  • Dominique Gatel, Veolia
  • Jordi Valls, Aguas Andinas, Santiago Chile

Q&A with participants

Wrap Up and Closing

>> Water Quality and Water ReusePDF Document

>> Business contribution to managing water quality and water reuse: tools and lessonsPDF document

13:00 – 14:00: Lunch

14:00-15:50: Business and the Human Rights to Water and Sanitation

Session Convener: Mai-Lan Ha CEO Water Mandate/Pacific Institute

Businesses are taking an array of actions to address water access, sanitation, and health concerns in their factories, in their value chains, in the communities within which they operate, and through their roles as service providers ensuring local water services are provided and systems are maintained. Actions they take often go beyond merely providing core services but also through working with other partners on local projects and through promoting education initiatives and policy reform that ensure the HRWS are appropriately understood and integrated into water planning processes.

This session focuses on understanding the contributions that business can make to the realization of the post-2015 development goals around WASH, exploring actions companies have already taken to both respect and support the rights to water and sanitation through the framework of corporate water stewardship and how this furthers realization of the goals.  It will focus particularly on understanding the interplay between public,  private, and civil society sector roles when looking at means of implementation (through financing, governance reforms, technology transfers, and capacity development), highlighting where businesses have made a particularly strong contribution.  It will also explore how these efforts might be further scaled, and where there is uncertainty hampering potential business action.

Overview Presentation

  • Mai-Lan Ha, CEO Water Mandate/Pacific Institute

Questions for Discussion

Invited Speakers

  • Financing: Ignasi Faine de Garriga, Agbar
  • Capacity Development: Carlo Galli, Nestle
  • Technology: Unilever (TBC)
  • Governance: Bimal Arora, CEO, Centre for Responsible Business

Q&A with participants

Wrap Up and Closing

>> Business Contribution to Implementation of Sustainable Development Goals Around Water Access, Sanitation, and HygienePDF Document

>> Business contribution to managing drinking water, basic sanitation and Hygiene (WASH): tools and lessonsPDF document

15:50 – 16:10: Coffee Break

16:10-18:00 Water Scarcity - Water Resource Management

Session Conveners: Paul Reig (Water Resources Institute) and John Mathews (AGWA)

For the majority of water users, water scarcity represents the most significant risk imaginable — to businesses, whole economies, and the ecosystems that provide the natural capital for those economies. The danger inherent in scarcity is that water cannot be replaced, and although many water scarcity events evolve and develop over weeks, months, or even years, their impacts strain systems and institutions, including their relationships, regulatory frameworks, and supply chains. Efforts to increase efficiency may be confounded by governance and allocation mechanisms designed during or better suited to non-scarce conditions, including economic or financial instruments that do not account for the incentives that may exacerbate or even induce scarce conditions. While modern frameworks such as the EU’s Water Framework Directive represent a significant improvement in how to cope with crisis or new conditions, in most cases stakeholders and decision makers must make difficult decisions under highly imperfect conditions. Worse, non-stationary processes such as demographic change, climate shifts, and economic transformation (such as the transition from an agricultural to a manufacturing economy) can reveal previously unseen vulnerabilities. Even in developed regions with complex and robust governance systems such as Australia’s Murray-Darling basin or North America’s Colorado River basin, the difficulty in the resolution of the stressors around water scarcity show that anticipation, coping, and ultimately the negotiation involved in reallocating is a universal challenge. During this session, participants from the business community will share their experience in utilizing available tools and guidelines that can help government, civil society, and others ensure water availability for all users (and the environment) under complex, shifting conditions for the implementation of the post-2015 agenda for water.

This session has two objectives:

  • Showcase tools, guidelines and other resources used by business to help ensure water availability for all users (and the environment) in the river basins where they operate.
  • Identify key opportunities and barriers for these to be scaled across sectors and adopted to implement the post-2015 agenda for water.

Questions for Discussion:

  • What are the available tools most commonly used by business mitigate water scarcity and ensure long-term water availability among multiple users?
  • How can the identified tools be implemented by governments, civil society and other stakeholders during the post-2015 agenda for water?

Overview Presentation

  • John Mathews, AGWA

Invited Speakers:

  • Financing: Justine Leigh-Bell, ClimateBonds, UK
  • Capacity Development:  Ross Hamilton, ICMM
  • Technology: ArturoBuenaventura, Abengoa, Spain
  • Governance:  Michael Spencer, Alliance for Water Stewardship, Australia

>> Business contribution to managing water scarcity: tools and lessonsPDF Document

>> Civil Society dealing with water scarcity and allocationPDF document

18:00:18:30 Final Wrap Up and Closing of the Day

  • Financing: Jack Moss, Aquafed, France; Jordi Valls, Aguas Andinas, Chile
  • Capacity Development: Ross Hamilton, ICMM
  • Technology: Hans Goossens, Yara, Norway
  • Governance: Michael Spencer, Alliance for Water Stewardship, Australia

1Ensuring the company's local legal and social license to operate in a specific location; preventing or reacting to operational crises resulting from the inadequate availability, supply, or quality of water or water-dependent inputs in a specific location; gaining an advantage over competitors because of stakeholder perceptions that the company uses natural resources responsibly and has a minimal impact on communities or ecosystems; assuring investors and markets that business operations will continue to be profitable by securing water availability for operations and reducing water-related costs; upholding corporate values based on sustainable and equitable development by contributing to the well-being of the catchments, ecosystems, and communities in which the company operates.

2Jason Morrison, Water Related Business Input Into the Post-2015 Process, UN Global Compact Leaders Summit, September 19, 2013.

3For more details about water risk assessment tools please visit: http://ceowatermandate.org/water-assessment-tools-methods/

>> Conference Home

About the Conference

>> Conveners and partners
>> Objectives and expected outcomes
>> Conference flyerPDF Document
>> AgendaPDF Document
>> StructurePDF Document
>> ParticipantsPDF Document


>> Accommodation
>> Travelling to Zaragoza
>> Your stay in Zaragoza
>> Map

The vision

>> Rio+20
>> Water and sustainable development
>> Global commitments on water
>> A post-2015 global goal for water
>> Water and the Open Working Group (OWG)
>> The role of actors involved

The action

>> Capacity development
>> Financing and economic instruments
>> Governance frameworks
>> Technology

Action on…

>> Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH)
>> Water Resources Management
>> Water Quality
>> Risk management

14 January: Pre-Conference Side events and Technical Visits

>> Technical visit: La Cartuja
>> Technical visit: The Ebro River Basin Authority and its Automatic System for Hydrologic Information (SAIH)
>> Technical visit: Expo + Water Park
>> New sources: Wastewater reuse
>> Local level actions in decentralized water solidarity towards the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals
>> Water Footprint Assessment
>> Technological advances and Water Policy
>> Cultivando Agua Boa Programme
>> CODIA and water and energy in LAC
>> The fulfillment of the human right to water and sanitation

15 January: Setting the scene and the context

>> Achieving sustainable water for all in LAC
>> Achieving water security for Asia and the Pacific
>> Ensuring implementation of the water-related SDGs in Europe
>> Setting the scene

16 January: Whose action?

>> Academia
>> Business
>> Civil society
>> Governments and local authorities
>> Media and Communicators

17 January: Integrating knowledge and the way forward

>> Multi-stakeholder dialogue on tools for implementation


>> Cases
>> Conference daily
>> Conference Communications ReportPDF Document
>> Discussion forum
>> Information briefs on Water and Sustainable Development
>> Interviewing conference participants
>> Overview Papers
>> Presentations from participants
>> Session Reports
>> Tool Papers
>> Toolbox
>> Twitter Activity Report
>> Video recording of sessions
>> Video interviews with conference participants

Promotional materials

>> Conference banners
>> Conference posterPDF document