As a British Olympic rower, I am passionate about a clean and healthy water environment which is essential to my sport. So whilst I was delighted to win another gold medal at the Olympics this year (with thanks to the National Lottery and the British public), it is also why I was so upset to see water polluted with sewage around the Marine de Gloria and Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon in Copacabana where the sailing and rowing events were held.
A global crisis
Yet, Brazil is by no means the only country grappling to get to grips with serious water issues. From pollution in the Ganges, the shrinking of Lake Victoria and severe droughts in southern Spain– we are facing a looming global crisis that needs to be urgently addressed. These issues aren’t theoretical – they have real and devastating impacts for local communities, the environment and businesses.
Yet, through my role as WWF-UK ambassador and my university degrees I’ve come to learn that there are solutions to these global problems – and business involvement is critical to realise them.
A way forward
WWF-UK’s new short animation on water stewardship makes this case clearly. It shows that all businesses depend in some way or another on water. Whether it is supermarkets that rely on it to grow crops that become the food and drink we buy, or a clothing company that depends on water to grow cotton in the fields that becomes our clothes – water is crucial. And thus what is bad for water is bad for business.
The animation shows not only the risks businesses face from water scarcity and pollution but also the direct impacts they can have on our rivers and lakes, which can exacerbate the problem. More positively though, the animation also shows how businesses can take action to become good water stewards – helping to ensure water is managed sustainably as a shared, public resource. This idea of water stewardship goes beyond being an efficient water user – it is about the private sector working with governments, other businesses, NGOs, communities and others to protect freshwater ecosystems.
What water stewardship looks like will differ depending on the business and where it is operating. It might mean entering into formal or informal partnerships with a range of organisations to directly tackle problems in specific catchments, or a business might work with other stakeholders to positively influence public policy.
Action is happening now
And this is more than a theory – it’s happening now – in the UK and globally. In East Anglia, WWF-UK is working with Coca-Cola, Norfolk Rivers Trust and the CamEO Partnership to implement water sensitive farming to reduce agricultural pollution which affects the regions chalk streams. Further afield in South Africa, businesses like Marks & Spencer are supporting action by WWF to develop a national water stewardship policy. SAB Miller is funding a ‘Water in the Economy’ study in Zambia to identify the role that water plays in supporting the economy, creating the incentives for the key players to support sustainable water management.
The water crisis isn’t going away– population growth and climate change will make those impacts more acute. But water stewardship is one of the solutions. Without business helping to solve our water crisis, I fear that the next generation of Team GB rowers will be not able to go for gold.
The animation is available to view on WWF’s YouTube channel.