State of Green Business

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Why World Water Day? Let’s try something different

There is no shortage of events on World Water Day by companies, non-governmental organizations, industry associations and other stakeholders. While these events raise awareness of the urgent need to solve water scarcity and poor quality, I am not convinced this approach has the scale of impact that is needed. Last year in this column, I framed my concerns as "We Need Far More than a Day Dedicated to Water Issues." I still believe this to be the case.

The past year has not changed my opinion. However, I would like to expand on what is needed and the opportunities that more rapidly could scale impact.

Earlier this month, I had a conversation with a friend who is a branding consultant with years of experience in sustainability. We were discussing the role of companies and product brands in addressing environmental and social issues. We were meeting with a mutual client discussing the increasing trend of "brands with purpose" and their impact in the market. As you can imagine, we talked about the obvious examples of Patagonia, Method, Unilever and more recently companies such as Loop Industries and TerraCycle's Loop, a new zero-waste platform partnering with a coalition of major consumer product companies such as Nestle and Unilever.

I always have viewed the metrics of consumer adoption of sustainability as a lagging indicator and don’t support the mantra of "if the customer isn’t asking for it, we don’t need to invest in sustainability."

As we know, enough business reasons exist for companies to invest in sustainability; increased brand equity and revenue and reduced operating costs and risks. However, I would now add that the power for companies to use their brand influence in solving water challenges is growing.

This has the potential to have a greater impact than one-day events.

Let me offer a couple of examples where corporate and product brands are doing more on the issue of water than setting water reduction targets and reporting progress in their CSR or CDP reports.

Increasingly, ABInBev has demonstrated innovative thinking through partnerships and programs in actively engaging in solving water challenges. For example, its Stella Artois brand strategy partnership with water.org and its 100 + Accelerator initiative with ZX Ventures illustrate that the company is committed to investing in innovative partnerships and water technology solutions. This goes well beyond the usual strategy of setting goals and reporting: The brewer is actually investing in solutions.

Another example worth mentioning is the Absolut Elyx and Water for People partnership, which creates brand equity and increased sales for the vodka maker while funding high-impact projects for the nonprofit organization.

It is time to do more to actually solve water scarcity and quality problems. The "drought" is not going away, and public policy is slow to adapt to the new reality of increased demand for water and declining quality. The opportunity is for companies and brands to actively be part of solutions through innovation in technology, partnerships, investments and brand strategy.

So, let’s engage on World Water Day, but commit to doing more each day.

To quote a hero of mine, Greta Thunberg, "I don’t want your hope. I want you to panic … and act."