From Risk to Opportunity: The Business Imperative for Water Resilience

While the first blog gave an overview on United Nations Global Compact’s Global initiative on Forward Faster Water Resilience, it is pertinent for businesses to know how they can take part in this initiative and achieve water resilience in their business operations and supply chains.

This blog would give a detailed overview on the role of businesses in achieving water resilience and the initiatives undertaken by UN Global Compact Network India in bringing together different stakeholders to strengthen water stewardship.


In June 2019, Chennai, a city in South India, faced one of the worst water crises the land had seen in a decade. 191 days without rainfall led to all major reservoirs being dried up. As a result, hotels, restaurants and businesses were forced to shut down and people were asked to work from home[1].

The situation of Chennai remains as a reminder of how our social, cultural and economic well-being is inextricably linked to natural resources like water. It is understood by now how businesses remain at the forefront of bearing the brunt of declining natural resources as major operational disruptions and reputational risks are at stake.

As is evident from the case of Chennai that the need arises for businesses to be resilient in the face of such vulnerability.

How can businesses achieve Water Resilience?

In business operations, water resilience can be achieved through implementing water-related standards, setting of science-based targets, implementing best practices in water efficiency and wastewater management, implement proven innovative technologies for water reuse, recycling, and circularity and by ensuring safe and resilient access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) for its employees.

The next important aspect of Forward Faster 2030 is the building resilience among the business supply chains. This can be done by understanding where the greatest water dependencies and impacts exist within supply chains and setting appropriate internal targets and plans to ensure long-term resilience within the chain of employees. Another crucial way of engagement is by working with suppliers in water-stressed basins to improve water efficiency, wastewater management, and the provision of safe resilient access to water, sanitation and hygiene in the workplace.

Lastly, no initiative and engagement would be possible alone. This is where the power of collective action plays a role. So how can businesses amplify positive impact through collaboration? This can be done by a number of different steps such as mapping the water basins where a company operates or has significant interest, working with public sector actors, integrating best practices in data information and transparency to inform decision-making, engaging with local communities including frontline, indigenous and under-represented communities to improve conditions by taking a human rights-based approach, identifying and advancing new co-financing mechanisms with Governments and multilateral funding agencies to close the financing gap, implementing proven innovative technologies for water reuse, recycling and circularity and applying companies’ unique expertise through supporting the curation and development of key technologies that can bring new tools and solutions to scale.

India Network’s Collective Action Initiatives

UN GCNI works closely with the CEO Water Mandate, and has aligned the Indian business in this initiative by establishing a national platform under the Water and WASH Workstream.

The Water and WASH workstream is a multi-stakeholder platform hosted by UN GCNI and supported by the Ministry of Jal Shakti and UNGC’s CEO Water Mandate, established to promote SDG 6- Clean Water and Sanitation in India. The workstream was in collaboration with four corporate members who were Accenture, Vedanta, LTIMindtree and Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories and two knowledge partners who were SM Sehgal Foundation and National Commodities Management Services Limited.

UN GCNI is committed to promoting Water and WASH on a national platform and contributing towards the National and Global agenda for water stewardship through its Forward Faster Water Resilience Initiative.
As part of the workstream, the following are the various activities undertaken-

Launch of White Paper and Compendium
The white paper in collaboration with SM Sehgal Foundation was on the theme ‘Promoting Water Security in Rural India through Corporate Stewardship: A case study of Akola, Maharashtra’. It aims to develop long term grounded solutions that can be utilized by industry and other stakeholders alike to resolve the pressing Water and WASH challenges faced by certain extreme water stressed basins across the country.

The compendium on ‘Water and WASH Best Practices Challenge’ contains a collection of the top 10 Best Practices case studies across Indian corporates. The challenge’s objective was to identify and felicitate organizations that have made notable contributions in the context of implementing innovative and sustainable water conservation & WASH practices in operations and supply chains. This program received more than 20 best practices case studies from the Indian corporate sector detailing how their companies are addressing Water Conservation and WASH issues. A set of external jury members and experts from the field judged the case studies and declared the top 3 winners- NTPC Ratnagiri in first position, followed by Ambuja Cement as 1st runner up and Indian Oil Corporation Ltd as the 2nd runner up.

Industrial Water Benchmarking Study
A three phase industrial water benchmarking study supported by ONGC was carried out by UN Global Compact in partnership with Accenture during 2016-18. The objective of the exercise was to clearly understand the risks and identify actionable measures to mitigate these risks and co-create innovative solutions to preserve this scarce natural resource.

The study was envisaged in three phases : The first phase of the study outlined the industrial water landscape, key risks and impacts, and future outlooks with a specific focus on the two highest water consuming sectors of Thermal Power Generation and Iron & Steel. These foundational insights fueled the second phase of the study, wherein the coverage of analysis was expanded to five additional sectors – Oil & Gas, Paper & Pulp, Textiles, Fertilizers, and Automotive. For each sector, the study analyzed water consumption patterns, criticalities, global benchmarks, best practices, advanced technological solutions and future outlooks. Phase three of the study saw the design and development of the Industrial Water Benchmarking Index.The aim in the third phase was to consolidate the findings from the first two phases and package them in the form of a comprehensive water index. The index presented a unique framework to enable the private sector to shape their journey towards a more sustainable and cleaner business model, thereby protecting water resources. This framework was developed based on a detailed study of more than 200 global companies, and inputs from over 40 organizations in India in the form of survey responses, site visits and personal interviews. These results were further refined by conducting workshops with external stakeholders and interviews with water experts globally.

Three key takeaways from this study were: Firstly, there is a need to evaluate the true cost of water to industries. This will improve the decision making process and provide a holistic view of the water value chain. Secondly, fresh water is a limited resource and maximizing its life cycle within an industry is a key priority. Introducing circularity in water usage both from a process and a business perspective can help industries make a giant leap in that direction. Thirdly, the need to engage the right stakeholders to manage water usage is very important.

● Water Stewardship Project: Sustainable access to Water and WASH in Maharashtra
The project was supported by Diageo, to improve and strengthen sustainable access to water and sanitation for the communities of 12 project villages spread across Nanded and Baramati in Maharashtra by creating a water replenishment capacity of 170,000 m3.
The following interventions were designed and implemented under the project:

  1. Construction of rainwater harvesting structures
  2. Afforestation
  3. Rejuvenation of water bodies
  4. Development of innovative WASH infrastructure
  5. Community Sensitization and Behaviour Change Communication (BCC) workshops

The project had successfully impacted the lives of 15,943 beneficiaries directly and 40,913 beneficiaries indirectly.

But, are we collectively close to achieving SDG 6?

In 2021, UN Water had said that in order to achieve sustainable development goals on water and sanitation by 2030, the world must quadruple the current rate of progress[2]. Therefore, our efforts and progress must move ‘forward faster’. But, how do we do that?

To know more, watch out for the third part of the blog that would give detailed information on GCNI’s way forward on achieving the Water Resilience Forward Faster among its Indian Corporate signatories.

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