Stockholm World Water Week – Exciting, exhausting…and somewhat disappointing
Greg Koch, Director, Global Water Stewardship
The Coca-Cola Company
The last week of August, I made my annual pilgrimage to Stockholm, Sweden, to join thousands of water professionals at Stockholm World Water Week, hosted by the Stockholm International Water Institute.
The beginning of every World Water Week is exciting as the week holds much promise for advancing the science, policy, and actions on critical water issues. As I read the list of technical sessions, workshops and side events, along with the list of individuals and organizations attending, I was convinced that if there is some “button” that needs pushing to solve a problem, the right players would be in the room and, collectively, it can be done.
And, several “buttons” were pushed.
On the policy front, the 2030 Water Resources Group (WRG) signed a memorandum of understanding with Mexico’s national water commission, CONAGUA, to formalize continued work on WRG’s Analyze, Convene, Transform approach to holistic water policy reform. This adds Mexico to a growing list of countries, including Jordan, South Africa, and India, that are interested in fully addressing water gaps through 2030 and are willing to work across ministries, sectors and civil society to identify and make (often tough) choices to close those gaps.
WRG isn’t the only water policy game in town, and certainly not the oldest, but Coca-Cola has invested time and resources with WRG since 2008. We have and continue to participate in WRG because we see the powerful impact their hydro-economic modeling has in getting the water debate discussed at a higher level – moving it into the finance and prime minister offices versus only the offices of industry, agriculture and water ministries.
Collective action was also a key theme and its time has come. From a business perspective, Coca-Cola started with action on water in our direct operations, slowly expanding to our supply chain. We then matured into watershed, policy and social issues through engagement with government and civil society, often bilaterally, such as our successful partnership with WWF.
Now, we find ourselves and many others acting through the ‘golden triangle’ of business, civil society and government (the .coms, .orgs, .govs). And for our business, it has been a great, successful concept. However, to truly be effective and successful for all, it is concept that needs to be embraced by multiple players from all sectors, versus just one organization representing each sector.
A solid example of such partnership is the Water Futures Initiative (WFI) launched by the German government, through GIZ (Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit). Building on the success of a triangle between SABMiller, WWF-UK and GIZ, called the Water Futures Partnership, the parties opened WFI to multiple business, NGO and government partners to pool resources against shared water stress and issues we face today and in the coming years.
Most exciting, to me at least, was the launch of the Water Action Hub and the Guide to Water-Related Collective Action by the CEO Water Mandate. The Hub is essentially a connection site for actors across sectors to identify issues and locations, globally, where they can find partners and pursue collective action – think ‘Match.com’ for water partners. These tools enable organizations to come together to achieve greater, more effective results with higher impact, and make it easier to identify and unite ‘golden triangles’ for interested parties.
On reporting and communications, Ned Breslin of Water for People highlighted the results of their effort to “re-imagine” reporting. This effort started as a way for their network to more clearly report progress and drive action. But, Ned and his team have set the bar on transparency as project details and costs can be tracked down to the invoice and receipt level. Ned also impressed by making the architecture of the site free and open to all.
So, with these announcements, launches and developments, Stockholm was certainly stimulating. With my breakfast-through-dinner meetings scheduled each day and juggling in some everyday work too, I can absolutely say it was also exhausting. I joked to friends that I would hibernate when I got home to recover – I actually did.
The theme for this year’s event was food and water, the nexus between water resources and the water needed to produce food for a growing population. Here is where Stockholm became disappointing, as it does each year in this regard.
The cultivation and processing of food uses the most fresh water, some 70 percent of available supplies. Yet, where was agriculture in Stockholm? Yes, there was a handful of agribusiness represented but not nearly the amount reflective of that sector’s water use nor representative of its prominence as the week’s theme. Retailers, consumer goods companies, governments, academia, and civil society can only think, say and do so much when it comes to water. Until farmers and agriculture companies become active participants in events like World Water Week, we have a way to go.