2015 saw a big step-up in ambition for the global community in it’s commitment to foster Earth’s stewardship. Among other important agreements, the UN General Assembly adopted a seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and emphasised the importance of water as an integral part of human development and ecosystem health.
The SDGs are much broader in scope than their forerunners, the Millennium Development Goals, and require broader civil society and business engagement, deployment of capacities and changes in human behaviour in their implementation.
A survey conducted by PWC shows that 71% of business are already planning how to engage with the SDGs. This is very encouraging. Why do the companies care about SDGs? The same report suggests that 78% of citizens are more likely to buy the goods and services of companies that had signed up to the SDGs. This answers the question of a company’s willingness to act upon SDG, but it also opens up several questions on how this can be achieved in practice such as understanding how company actions are making a real – and positive – impact on environmental, social and economic sustainability. For example, simple measures like water footprint do not reveal much on a company’s direct and real efforts to restore ecological systems.
There is a need for comprehensive understanding of how each company can have a positive impact on achieving the SDGs. So far, only 13% of businesses have identified the tools they will need to assess their impact against the SDGs.
However, assessing such impacts requires a broad and in-depth knowledge of the dynamics of water availability and its use. Furthermore, there are so numerous interactions and trade-offs in the water system and a one set of company actions may lead to sub-optimal, or even adverse outcomes, if the set of actions are not properly pre-designed considering such inter-linkages, trade-offs and synergies: a well-intended sustainable policy could turn out to be counterproductive.
Hence, indicators for companies’ sustainability performance cannot be too simplistic and should ultimately deliver sustainability measures of its impact at a broader scale. For example, measurement of water use efficiency should take into account relative water scarcity to assess the benefits of water saved from efficient usage. Such indicators will provide a truer picture of a business’s relative contribution to the SDGs.
Sustainable business policies and strategies can be achieved through co-produced knowledge and long-term collaborations among different stakeholders, including academics, civil society, and citizens, which will bring greater clarity to some of the conflicting environmental, economic and social policies.
At the Budapest Water Summit heads of state and government, ministers, high-level representatives of international organisations, members of the scientific, business and financial sectors and representatives of civil society from all over the world will meet to discuss concrete steps that are needed to take effective action on SDG implementation.
The Sustainable Water Future Programme, based in Australia, is organising the Science Forum during Summit, alongside its Global Partners- IIASA and IWMI. Some of the key questions on SDG implementation that will be addressed include how can we ensure that the benefits and trade-offs of solutions that are specific to local contexts are best understood, and how those solutions can work together synergistically across larger scales.