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Damon and White write: "Multinational companies have historically taken water availability for granted. But this is changing."

Matt Damon. (photo: Matt Sayles/Invision/AP)
Matt Damon. (photo: Matt Sayles/Invision/AP)

The Future of Water Sustainability

By Matt Damon, Gary White, Reader Supported News

24 November 13


ultinational companies have historically taken water availability for granted. But this is changing. A 2013 World Economic Forum report named water scarcity as one of the top global risks facing companies in the 21st century. So far, 93 multinational corporations have committed to the UN Global Compact's CEO Water Mandate, a public-private partnership to advance water sustainability -- an exponential increase from the original six signatories in 2007. As more business leaders recognise pressures related to water availability on their supply chains and profits, they are growing more aware of the impact of irresponsible water use on "intangible" business value such as reputation, brand and customer relations.

In 2014 the world will see even more companies increase water-related investments. This is not only for immediate business purposes, but because water sustains life and is intimately connected to all aspects of economic development. Business leaders understand this and will increase their focus on their own use of water as well as on water and sanitation access in the communities where they operate. In the year ahead cross-sector collaboration will also grow as the economic value of water climbs steeply.

Traditional charity models are becoming outmoded. What began as investments in digging wells have evolved into far more dynamic, market-oriented approaches like targeted grants intended to optimise social returns per philanthropic dollar.

The PepsiCo Foundation has pledged $35m to water programs in developing countries (including $12.1m to Most of this has gone to's WaterCredit model, a microfinance initiative which links access to finance with access to water and sanitation. The Caterpillar Foundation is investing $11.3m in this market-based approach over the next five years. The IKEA Foundation has stepped in with a $5m grant and companies such as Levi Strauss & Co, and organizations like the Swiss Re Foundation, the Mastercard Foundation and Bank of America Foundation have also joined the effort. Their thinking and action have evolved because they recognize that straight charity is extremely limited as a means to long-term impact.

In 2014 we will see more companies follow this lead, gaining greater influence by focusing on market-based solutions and metrics. They will deploy their philanthropic and corporate-social-responsibility resources in a way that leverages market forces. Firms will focus not just on the number of people reached with services but also on the philanthropic cost per person reached -- and strive to push that lower, as commercial capital does more of the heavy lifting through approaches like microfinance.

Expanding options for corporate and individual investors to provide debt financing at concessionary rates is a potentially high-impact model that should be further explored. Committed social-impact investors could catalyse lower-end borrower interest rates so more people could afford small loans to secure water and sanitation services. This type of "double-bottom-line" investing (ie, producing social as well as financial returns) will expand beyond venture philanthropists and find its way into portfolios supported by companies in water services and beyond.

Where there's a well, there's a way

These are just a few illustrations of innovative financial solutions to meeting the need for safe water and sanitation. In 2014 businesses will partner with global non-governmental organizations, assessing water risk, scarcity and opportunity. And high-profile declarations such as the CEO Water Mandate will report on their commitments in six areas: direct operations, supply chain and watershed management, collective action, public policy, community engagement and transparency.

Leading examples of this approach include the investment by Merck and the PepsiCo Foundation in the Safe Water Network, an effort to bring technology and consumer-marketing campaigns to the rural poor in India; Bayer's work to improve wastewater treatment; SAB Miller's collaboration with the Water Futures Partnership, to ensure sustainable water resources in multiple countries; and Unilever's alliance with Oxfam, Population Services International, Save the Children and the World Food Programme, which ranges from providing technology for safe drinking water to efforts to change behavior.

Water plays a central role in all aspects of life, from energy to food security, health and education. That is what makes it so complex to tackle. As water scarcity becomes all too real, collaboration will become essential. Although governments need to lead and commit themselves to infrastructure expansion and affordable service, in 2014 it will be corporate financial innovation and smart philanthropy that help to bring safe water and sanitation to some of the billions in need.

Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News. your social media marketing partner


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+12 # Farafalla 2013-11-25 01:09
I am not impressed with corporate interests in environmental NGOs. They do this to influence message and skew objectives. Major NGOs have changed their shape to fit the new donor structure. And the administrators of these NGOs are increasingly savvy at fund raising because they come from the business world with "proven fundraising abilities". Pepsi has no interest in safe drinking water. What they all want is the privatization of water that proceeds unabated as these corporations redirect what was once the righteous ire of the well informed into the successful era of flush bank accounts.
+7 # Glen 2013-11-25 07:28
Nestle wasn't mentioned here, unless I missed something. Nestle and other corporations have been buying up water and then selling back to locals in a number of areas and quite likely control bottled water services now. I haven't kept up lately.

When developers are granted the right to dig a water well in Arizona, deeper than an oil well, one might question the need for further development over the needs of citizens. States that are neighbors of those states with good and plentiful water, such as Arkansas, are pushing hard to get that water - Texas wants Arkansas' water. States bordering the Great Lakes have already signed a pact to not allow the sale or sharing of those waters.

Yep, water wars are coming in spite of the "benevolence" of corporations. Worldwide.
+2 # Billy Bob 2013-11-25 08:19
I agree.
+7 # Billy Bob 2013-11-25 08:15
I didn't expect to disagree with him on this. The more we monetize basic necessities for human life, the more we will see a divergence between those who can afford access to that necessity and those who will simply have to die, because they don't figure into the economic model.

The fact is that it is literally impossible for us to "run out of" water.

Bear with me, because I'm not trying to sound like one of those anti-environmen talists who says things like "CO2 is natural, therefore it can't be a pollutant".

What I mean, is that FRESH water will become increasingly problematic. But, PUBLIC investment (i.e. TAX dollars) could, and must, invest in global desalinization plants. Furthermore, that desalinized ocean water needs to be pumped to the places where it's needed. Now, THAT'S a pipeline I would support!

+3 # Glen 2013-11-25 09:26
The problem with simple desalinization is the pollution. Coastal areas, say along the Gulf Coast and California have runoff that is amazingly polluted and then there is the pollution as a result of oil spills and leaks, and dumping offshore. Beaches are closed for a minimum of 24 hours after rains, due to the polluted runoff. The advice is to keep them closed longer.

If it is possible to filter out the chemicals and other pollutants in addition to desalinization, it will and should happen.
+1 # Billy Bob 2013-11-25 11:08
It is possible. I know someone who's involved in municipal water supplies in Europe. She talks about how much better it's done there than here. Of course, it involves money and community (read: "FEDERAL TAX") investment.

There isn't any substantial and reliable source of clean water left. If we want to ingest H2O without contracting cancer, we'll need to fix this.
+2 # Nominae 2013-11-25 14:47
Quoting Glen:
The problem with simple desalinization is the pollution....... [in the water]....

If it is possible to filter out the chemicals and other pollutants in addition to desalinization, it will and should happen.

The Saudis have been using desalination as a source of water for many decades. This planet is 3/4s covered with water.
All that water is not polluted beyond potable use - yet.

Long ago, the Saudi desalination plants suffered only from the high costs of what was then new technology, which did not, of course, deter the Saudis.

Much in the same way that the costs of Solar Power and Wind Power has been dropping precipitously (so to speak) even as the technology has been vastly improved, the tech costs of desalination have also been dropping even as the technology itself has improved.

Your point is well taken regarding our coasts. The Saudis have not yet managed to saturate their waters with pollution the way that we have done (We're number ONE, We're number ONE ).

I do not know how the Saudis clean the sea water, but I'm in full favor of taking a page from their notebook to see how it can be modified to address our own needs.

What I do *not* see is safe Corporate Control of water systems.
You can bet Pepsi, Coke et al. need to control water. So does the entire Fracking industry @ millions of gallons per well drilled.

Desalination plants would definitely need to be Publicly owned and operated.
+1 # PaineRad 2013-11-27 01:09
And what is done with the stuff removed from the salt water? If desalinization were to become commonplace, what would that do to the growing threat of acidification?
+3 # Billy Bob 2013-11-25 08:18

At first, we need to do this in the U.S., because we all know Americans feel no need to care about people from other countries. If we start this in the U.S., places like China, Russia, and India would follow. Eventually, it would become the norm.

If Africa and South America are left behind, there would finally be enough of an outcry to do something about it.

At that point, if doing it the fair (socialistic) way is still a no-go, the fact that socialism got the ball rolling, will now make it reasonable for private companies to find a way to squeeze a profit from it.

Notice the fact that NASA (which is a socialist organization) went to space first (as far as America is concerned), but private investors, now use that technology (which could have only been feasibly attained through socialism) to get in on the gravy train.
+2 # Nominae 2013-11-25 15:08
Quoting Billy Bob:

Notice the fact that NASA (which is a socialist organization) went to space first (as far as America is concerned), but private investors, now use that technology (which could have only been feasibly attained through socialism) to get in on the gravy train.

Good post throughout. Allow me, however, to focus on this point you make above (because you are correct, many people *DO* believe that old canard.) and correct the record for the benefit of those who apparently did not get the memo.

The first man-made vehicle into space was called Sputnik, and was launched by the USSR in 1957. I remember when it went up.

I saw this very question missed by all when I was channel-surfing past "Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader". This fact is *obviously* not being taught in school, because all of the kids on the show *could* tell the inquisitor the name of the first U.S. vehicle into space, but that was, of course, not the question.

It was this very accomplishment on the part of the Russians that ignited the "all-costs-be-d amned" Space Race between the USSR and the USA.

Ironically, the costs of this race obviously contributed greatly [along with the maniacal spending of the Cold War itself] to the economic collapse that eventually necessitated the decision on the part of the USSR to take it's football and go home.

The entire collapse of the Soviet Union followed closely thereafter.
+1 # Billy Bob 2013-11-25 17:25
Good comments. NASA did what it did through socialistic means, and the necessity of keeping up with a communist nation that was ahead of us.
0 # Glen 2013-11-27 16:41
Anybody remember Uri Gagarin?

When Sputnik went up, the U.S., once again, changed forever. Schools became more and more competitive and emphasized science and jobs far more than personal enrichment. We have since seen the results of that: jobs only, and now debt and corporate universities.

The Russians made great strides in spite of the U.S. laughing at the "tin cans" they were sending into space.

I met the fellow who was stuck in the Russian space station for many months, when the Soviet Union fell. There was no funding and no means of getting him down. As a result, he was, shall I say, a bit eccentric, but well guarded and pampered. He attempted to tell Americans about long term space occupation and protecting humans from radiation from the sun. (He stayed inside the battery compartment during daylight hours, but the U.S. would not listen.)

Uri Gagarin's best friend died on re-entry, after the two of them warned of the improper structure of the capsule. His is the only recording of a person on re-entry and dying. He was furious, yelling in protest the entire way down. There are photos of his charred body on display.

The Soviets made as many sacrifices as the U.S. and made much progress that was never recognized by the U.S. in their uppity attitude against many countries and their efforts in many scientific areas. Scientists, however, collaborated outside government scrutiny, and learned from each other. It could be done again.
+4 # jwb110 2013-11-25 12:11
The model Mr. Damon puts forth is fine as long as these companies realize the water Belongs to "all" the people. As near as I can tell the amount of philanthropy in the Corporate Sector is pretty well nil.
+1 # giraffee2012 2013-11-25 17:39
Some Swiss company has invented a shower that cleanses shower water for reuse - and intends to do same for other household water demands. (Or so I heard on NPR yesterday)

But who in a 3rd world nation can afford a shower much less one that recycles water?? Or even in our poorer areas where an expensive shower is beyond the pale.

Not sure my comment helps but some sort of recycling should be made available and affordable to all or we ain't going to make it out alive
0 # Billy Bob 2013-11-25 18:46
I agree, but I also think that any solution that requires individual compliance and individual investment, multiplied by all houses on Earth, is the model we already have.

We can't fix this piecemeal. The only way to be serious about it, is to at least tackle it as a nation (since we can't seem to do anything cooperatively as a planet - other than war).

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