Celebrating World Water Day: How Companies Are Addressing Water Challenges in the 21st Century


By: Jamie Berman, Senior Account Executive

March 22 is World Water Day, a United Nations-led initiative bringing attention to the importance of universal access to water, sanitation and hygiene. An annual occurrence, the theme for World Water Day in 2018 is “Nature for Water,” which explores nature-based solutions to the water challenges we face in the 21st century. Efforts such as planting trees to replenish forests, restoring wetlands and reconnecting rivers to floodplains are sustainable, cost-effective ways to mitigate the effects of climate change – thereby improving human health.

Ecosystems damaged by development, changes in land use and more are affecting the quality and quantity of safe drinking water available for human consumption. According to the UN, 2.1 billion people live without safe drinking water at home, with implications on health, education and livelihoods. The World Health Organization estimates about one-third of the world’s population lives in countries with moderate to high water stress, and two out of every three people may be living in water-stressed conditions by 2025.

One needs only to look at the situation unfolding in Cape Town, South Africa to see how water scarcity and quality issues stand to affect us all: “Day Zero” is the term being used to describe the point at which the city’s water collection and delivery systems will run dry. This is a first for a major city in modern times, and Day Zero, while slightly postponed due to a drastic reduction in residents’ water usage, is a mere 10 weeks away, anticipated to occur July 9, 2018.

Enormous opportunity exists for brands to make a difference when it comes to rehabilitating ecosystems or providing safe drinking water to those affected by contamination or insufficient resources. Here are a few examples of companies making strides:

  • Vestergaard: This global health company focuses its efforts on improving the health of vulnerable populations by developing innovations to fight malaria, HIV/AIDS, diarrheal diseases, tropical diseases and food and water security. The company’s LifeStraw* line is based on its original product: a straw-like filter that removes nearly all microbiological contaminants. In March 2018, Vestergaard and LifeStraw celebrated the milestone of 1 million schoolchildren reached with safe drinking water through their consumer retail program. The initiative installs LifeStraw Community filters in rural Kenyan and Indian communities affected by unsafe water and supplements them with educational programs and maintenance for a minimum of five years per school, all carried out by full-time staff in the region.
  • Heineken: Under its “Brew a Better World” sustainability campaign, the beer brewer has specific, tailored water stewardship programs for many of its facilities around the world. For example, the company encourages activities like planting bamboo near its Multi Bintang, Indonesia brewery: Bamboo is water-efficient and popular for reforestation in that it grows quickly. The company also recently teamed up with the United Nations Industrial Development Organization for a partnership focused on water stewardship initiatives affecting the communities in which Heineken has breweries and other facilities.
  • VF: The parent company of outdoor apparel and lifestyle brand Timberland* has prioritized water stewardship within its raw material sourcing strategy, as well as its manufacturing and supply chains. For example, Timberland set a goal to source 100 percent of its leather from Leather Working Group Gold or Silver-rated tanneries by 2020, which stipulates strong water use and wastewater treatment regulations for tanneries. Another VF brand, Wrangler, is leading the way in water conversation related to growing cotton by partnering with The Nature Conservancy to lead a soil health advisory group to identify best practices and extend them across the industry.

As water scarcity and quality issues continue to pervade our communities and create adverse outcomes for human health, the onus on businesses to take a stand will continue to intensify. World Water Day is an important moment in time to generate awareness, but we need more organizations to incorporate water responsibility and actionable initiatives into their business plans, corporate purpose and CSR programs for long-lasting, meaningful change.

*Cone client