UN 2023 Water Conference Talk Show: Water in Business: Driving Change in the Boardroom.
Moderator / Host:
- Arati Davis
- Melissa Dogo, Programme Manager, Swedish Water House at SIWI
- Jehanne Fabre, Sustainability Water Director, Danone
- Aude Farnault, Water Policy Analyst, OECD
A consistent theme throughout World Water Week so far has undoubtedly been the need for action and the emphasis on how a business-as-usual approach regarding water simply won’t cut it anymore. To achieve SDG6 – (Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all) putting water at the centre of decision-making and into the heart of the boardroom within both the public and private sectors will be paramount. This unique session focussed on how we can change governance structures to put water at the heart of sustainable development and the challenges that the water crisis poses, whilst catching and holding the attention of business leaders and decision makers.
Session focus with Neil Pendle
Is water being given the attention we need from the business community?
Panellist Melissa Dogo introduced the session by detailing the challenges facing us, and the business community in particular. It is apparent that the full impact of water related risks are not fully understood by business despite widespread recognition of the link between climate change and water security.
Danone has made significant progress in understanding the issues and developing tried and tested solutions that deliver value for the business, customers and the environment. Key to success is making credible operational commitments and a systematic approach to delivery. One of the lessons learnt by Jehanne Fabre, Danone’s Sustainability Water Director, was to translate water-related risks into financial terms that are understood by the corporate team and enable prompt and effective action. Jehanne adopted a new type of language and business model that recognised the disproportionate impact of water on Danone’s operating model, which in turn helped provide insight and buy in from the senior leadership team. Effectively communicating water-related risks and bridging the gap to mitigation has been highly successful in delivering projects.
Aude Fernauld, who works in the Water Team of the OECD Environment Directorate added that water disclosure and stewardship are critical to success and enables a greater focus, and investment, in high risk areas. This base data coupled with a comprehensive water strategy plan can give greater confidence for investors. This comes from the realisation that the cost of action is lower than the cost of dealing with the impacts. CDP has published several reports regarding developing a water risk plan which can have a meaningful impact on business value.
As highlighted by Aude Farnault, there has been increased focus on water recently which is positive, yet also reflective of the underlying issues which are now becoming more prominent. Many do not fully understand the value and impact of water to their business. Water risk is frequently considered in financial as opposed to environmental terms, and as emphasised by Dogo, “we must be sure to understand the businesses standpoint.” On board level, the business case should be presented to include ‘why’ – it’s not just a CSR initiative. Embedding water as a core component of the corporate structure will increase understanding around its importance and support concrete changes in how it is managed by businesses.
Danone has shown how engaging with senior leadership teams, and particularly finance, can unlock investment opportunities and deliver exceptional returns for businesses. The pace of change needs to substantially increase but businesses can have a positive influence by providing the much needed leadership on water and showing that acting on water makes great business sense.