Water: the most basic human need. On a planet that is almost completely covered by it (71%), it’s easy to forget that it is one of our most fragile natural resources. Business is easily the largest consumer of water worldwide, and so the sixth UN Sustainable Development Goal, Clean Water & Sanitation, charges us all with protecting it and ensuring that all people have access to enough of it. By adopting a Shared Value strategy at every level of your business’s value chain, you have the power to make a difference at scale – as companies around the world are already beginning to do.


The Coca-Cola Company has taken Shared Value principles to heart, using the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a framework to ensure meaningful contribution to building a better world for 2030 and beyond. Water is one of their key focus areas – no surprise for one of the biggest beverage companies in the world. Their approach centres on four goals: improving water-use efficiency, managing wastewater, mitigating risk and replenishing water for both communities and nature. Efficiently, effectively and ethically managing their water usage and resources not only increases productivity but is also an investment in the future of their business. The water they protect now is the same water upon which they will depend in the future.


They started with their own value chain, working towards reducing the amount of water used to produce their many products. They reduced the amount of water used in their manufacturing process by 27% between 2004 and 2016, and continue to work to decrease it year-on-year. The company also works closely with diverse partners, ranging from the World Wildlife Fund to community stakeholders, to improve safe access to clean water and sanitation, including restoring and protecting watersheds. In 2016, the company met their goal of true balance: they now return the equivalent of the amount water used in production back to the natural ecosystem and to communities in which they operate. Don’t miss Coca-Cola Director of Programs Implementation & Partnerships Management Dorcas Onyango talking water and waste management at the 2018 Africa Shared Value Summit.


Unilever is another global giant that has taken the SDGs to heart through its Sustainable Living Plan, the blueprint for its Shared Value strategy. In the pursuit of Goal 6, they have used their diverse brand portfolio to address the issue from several angles. They, too, have committed to reducing the amount of water used in their manufacturing processes, as well as innovating ways to lessen the water burden on the consumer. From rinsing laundry to flushing toilets, brands across the spectrum made conserving water easier, especially for those living in water-scarce regions. This has contributed to increased market share for Sunlight in South Africa.


Many of Unilever’s products lend themselves to marketing campaigns that lead to better sanitary habits among the target market. Oral hygiene, handwashing and other programmes (representing products that account for almost 50% of Unilever’s operating profit) encourage people to improve and maintain their personal care habits. This benefits society as well as the individual – handwashing, for example, stops the spread of otherwise easily communicable diseases. The same applies for Unilever’s Home Care product range. For example, Domestos is helping to improve sanitary conditions – and, in giving people access to toilet facilities, they are also creating a future market for the product.


True impact requires innovation and out-of-the-box thinking. Water issues are not uniform – every region has its own challenges, based on its history and topography. In Rwanda, as Water Access Rwanda founder and Managing Director Christelle Kwizera noted at the 2017 Africa Shared Value Summit, “It’s not about physical water scarcity, it’s about the lack of infrastructure to access that water”. The company’s genesis is the very definition of finding business opportunity in seemingly overwhelming societal challenges. Not only does Water Access Rwanda (WARwanda) now connect communities with water through simple, affordable and durable water systems, training, and other products and services – it has also created sustainable jobs for young Rwandan professionals.


The team have no intention of slowing their efforts. They have integrated renewable energy into their offering, using solar power or generators to pump water in communities where there is no electricity. This will also make the pumps more cost-effective for rural communities, who do not have the resources to commit to the ongoing funding of the water system. WARwanda already relies on its urban customers to subsidise the cost of installation for their low-income clientele, in order to ensure that they are able to serve a broad range of people and also reach those whose need is greatest. They also accept donations.


Business has a responsibility to join the global efforts to achieve the SDGs by 2030, and Shared Value is the key to achieving maximum impact without compromising profit. Indeed, as these and many more companies using their Shared Value strategy to drive access to clean water and sanitation for everyone show, making the shift can be the driver of long-term, sustainable business growth. To learn more about Shared Value and how it can help you future-proof your business, contact us – and don’t forget to book your ticket for the 2018 Africa Shared Value Summit!



Image Source: Distilled Photography