Why investing in water, sanitation and hygiene pays off – global issues

  • Opinion by Ruth Loftus, Michael Alexander (London / Edinburg)
  • Interpress service

For many international actors, many from the business world, the headlines were a deadly reminder not only of the power and value of water, but also of the failure of the global system to properly manage it.

There can be no dispute that Pakistan’s latest flood disaster has been exacerbated by the climate crisis. With COP27 looming in November and the UN Water Conference next March, business leaders, governments and key stakeholders need to put water issues at the top of the agenda and address them beyond the boardroom and across the supply chain.

It’s fair to say that the important role of businesses in ensuring sustainable access to water is often overlooked. A safe, reliable and durable water supply is essential for most manufacturing processes and the health and well-being of workers – and it also makes good financial sense.

During World Water Week, WaterAid launched its latest research.Business promotion: why it is worth investing in water, sanitation and hygiene” to demonstrate the business benefits and potential financial returns to companies from investing in these facilities.

This pioneering, first-of-its-kind research was funded by Diageo, Gap Inc., HSBC, Twinings and ekaterra (formerly part of Unilever). The studies were conducted over four years in four different countries in four different sectors – including tea production, clothing and leather, and smallholder farming.

WaterAid’s perspective:

The quantitative aspect of our pilot project is crucial because it is all about how and why investing in taps, toilets and hygiene behavior change is good for business. Not only were we able to deliver thought-provoking project work delivering tangible benefits to the workforce and wider communities, but we were also able to quantify how this impacted productivity; how many pairs of jeans were sewn together, how much tea was collected, how many absences from work decreased, how much the payment of medical bills for companies decreased, and so on. We then extrapolated this data into a striking number – return on investment (ROI).

In short, installing clean water and proper sanitation facilities will help workers stay healthy. This means less absenteeism, lower medical costs, better morale and productivity. Our research showed that for every $1 invested in clean water, the clothing and leather sector generated a total return on investment of $1.32, and the tea sector estimates $2.05.

To highlight prominent examples: one of Bangladesh’s ready-made garment (RMG) factories showed an ROI of $9 for every dollar invested in WASH, while one Twinings teahouse plantation in India had $5. up to $1 ROI during the pilot program.

With continued investment over a ten-year period, the returns are even greater—indeed, one RMG plant is estimated to have a return on investment of $30-1—and when companies also support their employee communities, significantly more people benefit.

It is also important to note that some businesses are discouraged by the initial capital outlay and the fact that returns are not always immediate. However, cheap solutions can often yield big results in the long run.

It incorporates hygiene, which became a board-level consideration during the pandemic, and the world’s sudden focus on enhanced handwashing has had a lasting impact as the first and most cost-effective defense against infection.

Now it is important to consider how to maintain this beneficial behavior change. Every workplace is different, but it’s time for companies to put the well-being of their workforce at the heart of their business strategies and prioritize water, sanitation and hygiene.

Company perspective:

At Diageo, we strongly believe that because access to clean water and sanitation are basic human rights, every effort should be made to achieve this global goal. Access to water is central to education, maintaining health and increasing employability, and it addresses gender inequalities in communities, as women bear most of the burden of water collection.

We fully appreciate the huge positive impact of investing in WASH and decided to be a key business partner in this ground-breaking research so that we can finally prove the investment case with reliable research and data and share the message with other companies.

We take the findings and incorporate them into our business strategies. Strong, quantitative evidence is what we need to support investment in WASH facilities, which play a key role in our Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) Agenda: Spirit of Progress 2030. Now we have the data and evidence to accelerate it. work more.

Future-proof supply chains

Investing in water and sanitation equipment must be considered a core business priority and part of a water management strategy, not charity or corporate social responsibility. It must no longer be seen as charity or corporate greenwashing, but as a smart and smart way to future-proof: communities and businesses to thrive.

Companies now need to think beyond the factory garden and pay attention to their supply chains and employee well-being.

As the world experiences more and more extreme weather events and an ever-growing population means a growing demand for water, more companies need to follow suit and have a greater presence on the global stage to address the crisis. It is in the interests of businesses to ensure sustainable access to water, and there is now a clear financial incentive to ensure lasting change.

When businesses, governments and civil society come together, important ESG criteria can be met and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) can be met to achieve 100% access to safe water, toilets and sanitation by 2030.

*Ruth Loftus is WaterAid’s Senior Private Sector Advisor and Michael Alexander is Diageo’s global head of water, environment and agricultural sustainability.

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© Inter Press Service (2022) — all rights reservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service