March 22, 2023 marked World Water Day, a day that focuses on accelerating change to solve the water and sanitation crisis. As highlighted in a UN water conference on Wednesday, the first since 1977, billions of people around the world still lack access to clean and safe water. The water crisis has a major impact in many other sustainable development goal (SDG) targets beyond health and hygiene, especially those related to poverty, gender equality, quality education and economic growth. Because when women and children are spending 200 million hours each day collecting water, the most critical necessity to life on earth, their education and participation in the economy are deprioritized.
In honor of World Water Day, I joined a panel, “On Water: A Critical Need for Communities and the Role of Brands” alongside IPG’s Chief Sustainability Officer, Jemma Gould, Reckitt’s Chief Marketing Officer and GM of US Hygiene, Gary Osifchin and Water.org’s Chief Revenue Officer, Lina Bonova. The discussion, which was moderated by David Shukman, former science editor of BBC News, explored the state of the water crisis, the important things for companies to consider when engaging in the issue and addressed how marketing and communications can help improve access to water and sanitation.
Here are a few takeaways from the discussion, specifically around the role companies and brands can play in addressing the water crisis:
Know your starting point
Before thinking about communications programming and nonprofit partnerships, it is critical to understand the issue, the complexity of it and what your company or brand can do about it. Companies also need to determine their starting point — including their commitment to responsible water stewardship and management in their own operations, their value chain and in the lifecycle of their products or services. This exercise helps a company identify where they can meaningfully make a difference and focus their efforts.
Know where your expertise ends and engage partners accordingly
There are many incredible partners who can help build meaningful programs. First, look internally to business leaders, operators, subject matter experts and R&D leaders who can inform your approach. As you look to engage external partners, have a clear understanding of what you are trying to achieve — drive innovation, scale solutions, increase awareness and education, change behaviors, get people to take action. Consider where your expertise ends and who can be engaged to make progress and impact. Think expansively about stakeholders — local governments, citizens, business owners etc. — to inform local community programs.
Companies and brands have incredibly powerful platforms to raise awareness about an issue, but that’s not enough. Consider the ways your company or brand — in partnership with others — can raise awareness PLUS convene, invest and drive solutions. And think of out-of-the box ways to break through in meaningful, relevant and creative ways. For example, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation* launched the “Reinvent the Toilet Challenge,” a fund that supported scientists finding new ways to create toilets without the need for a sewer system. At the Reinvented Toilet Expo in 2018, Bill Gates carried a jar of poop with him on stage — garnering a ton of media attention across outlets and verticals, giving the foundation multiple opportunities to talk about the challenge and the importance of supporting sanitation efforts.
Water is our most precious resource and it’s everyone’s responsibility — especially businesses — to help protect it and ensure that everyone can have access to it. When marketing and communications is done right, it has the power to unlock even more opportunity for impact at scale. I’m excited to see the solutions our industry brings to the table.
*Weber Shandwick client