By Ellen Silva, Applied Sustainability Sr. Manager, General Mills
The 2014 World Water Week plenary session opened to the melody of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons as ballerinas emerged from the shadows and leaped and pirouetted across the stage. It wasn’t what I was expecting, not by a long shot. But by the end of the week, it actually made a lot of sense.
Hosted and organized annually by the Stockholm International Water Institute, World Water Week is the leading global event for discussing the planet’s water issues and related concerns of international development. It took place Aug. 31-Sept. 5. More than 2,500 participants and 200 collaborating organizations from approximately130 countries participate when the summit is convened every four years. The theme of this most recent conference was the connection between water and energy. Food was a frequent point of conversation since food and energy both require large amounts of water to produce, and without both, economies are unstable and communities do not thrive.
Topics such as the human right to safe drinking water, the particular impact that water shortages and drought have on women and girls, and the critical need for energy and water for development of growing economies were covered throughout the week. We heard Dr. Kandeh Yumkella, Special Representative of the UN Secretary General, Sustainable Energy for All, call for energy to reduce poverty by enabling clean water, food security, and women’s economic empowerment. Professor John Briscoe, 2014 Stockholm Water Prize Laureate, emphasized that solutions must be found at the local level. Innovations such as drip irrigation with improved performance and even a robotic fish that could be applied to clear irrigation canals were displayed in the expo hall.
I joined Kari Vigerstol, Senior Hydrologist for The Nature Conservancy, in a presentation on corporate water stewardship. We discussed our experience in leveraging collective action in the agricultural supply chain to support watershed health. And we listened to others, leaders from Anheuser-Busch InBev, Olam International, The Coca-Cola Company, the World Wildlife Fund, Nestlé, and others, share their experiences. And this is where the dance that started the week began to make sense.
Watershed collaboration is complex. It takes intricate footwork to engage all of the stakeholders; to balance conflicting needs between nature, agriculture, industry, and communities; to work with governments that change with each election; and all within the framework of a changing climate. For every watershed, it is likely that a new set of needs, not to mention a new set of challenges in delivering against those needs, will be discovered. The geology that affects the river and aquifer formation, the rate at which an aquifer might recharge, the root cause of water scarcity… there are so many factors to consider, it is hard to know what step to take first. Like an intricate ballet, successful watershed collaboration must be carefully choreographed, and it takes practice to do it well.
Fortunately, General Mills has had several coaches as we’ve started to learn this dance. As we’ve described before (http://www.blog.generalmills.com/2014/04/watershed-stewardship-is-in-our-sweet-spot/), both the World Wildlife Fund and The Nature Conservancy have given us lessons and been our partners as we’ve begun to master the steps.
As we learn more and share our story more broadly, we are finding new partners both within the world of conservation organizations and also within the world of business. And we are looking for more. The importance of watershed stewardship to our business is too great not to keep several spots open on our dance card.
So, would you care to dance with us?