COVID-19 has brought into sharp focus the critical role of clean water, sanitation and hygiene as the first line of defense against the pandemic and other diseases — along with the reality that millions of people still lack access to this fundamental human right.

March 22 is World Water Day — a date used since 1993 to raise awareness of the importance of freshwater resources in sustaining life and livelihoods around the world.

This is the second piece in an occasional series about the state of business around the SDGs, in the lead up to the COP26 Conference in November. Here is the first article in the series.



1 in 10 people currently lack a source of clean water. Three billion live without hand-washing facilities at home. More than 2 billion people live in areas of water stress — defined as areas where demand for freshwater is greater than supply. This disproportionately impacts women and girls, who are often responsible for fetching water, putting their security at risk and reducing access to education and employment.

Sadly, this situation is getting worse, driven by population growth, unsustainable use and pollution. Climate change is also exacerbating the crisis, resulting in more frequent and severe flooding, in turn claiming lives and overwhelming fragile water and sanitation services, and greater incidence of drought. If we do not act, half of the world’s population will live in areas of water stress by 2050.

Diageo is a part of the Business Avengers — a group of companies advocating for leadership and collaboration from business in achieving the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.

We are the Business Avenger for SDG 6 on Clean Water and Sanitation. We have been working for nearly two decades to embed water stewardship into our business and supply chain and advocating for others to do the same. As a global drinks company with more than 200 brands sold in 180 countries, our business cannot exist without water.


Commitment to SDG 6 is not solely philanthropic — there is a compelling business case for investment. There are a lot of ways that businesses can help to reduce water stress. Diageo’s focus on water stewardship over the past decade has enabled the company to achieve a 46% improvement in water efficiency globally, reducing our costs, mitigating risk and building resilience in our operations.

Our water replenishment work around our sites and the areas where we source our agricultural raw materials has helped to enhance health outcomes and livelihoods in these communities. This builds greater resilience in our supply chain and fosters economic growth and connections in our local communities. And our focus on water sanitation and hygiene in our workplaces and with our suppliers provides a first line of defense for COVID-19 and better outcomes for our business and for society.

Responding to the current pandemic and preparing for future shocks will require access to clean water and sanitation for all.

Diageo has committed to using 30% less water per drink (40% in water-stressed areas) by 2030. We will replenish more water than we directly use in all our water-stressed areas — the equivalent of over four billion liters of water — through more than 150 community water projects on five continents, improving water quality and access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene, as well as planting trees and desilting dams.



Water stress is often driven by unsustainable practices and management at the river-basin level, so spurring collective action to preserve water in our most at-risk basins is essential, such as the collective action to protect the Tana River supplying 95% of water for Nairobi. Another is theBeverage Industry Environmental Roundtable, which addresses watershed challenges in the Santiago-Lerma water basin in Jalisco, Mexico. It is important to proactively engage with local and national governments on water policy, regulation and planning — recognizing that governance is often the greatest challenge in these basins.

The Water Resilience Coalition and WaterAid initiatives are calls for urgent and collective corporate water action to support the response to COVID-19 and build long-term resilience.



For any company, the water stewardship journey needs to start with an understanding of which sites and suppliers are operating in areas of water stress and where the “water footprint” of products is concentrated.

This will direct focus to site-level water efficiency projects, where they can have the biggest immediate impact and help prioritize supplier engagement.

For many food and beverage companies, for example, a significant part of a product’s water footprint is often in agricultural raw materials, so partnering with and supporting farmers to improve their water stewardship is a core priority. Diageo has worked with WaterAid to provide businesses with guidance on how to take action in this critical area.



Innovation is key to delivering scalable solutions — such as “water ATMs.”

Inspired by cash-vending machines, water ATMs enable people to buy clean, low-cost drinking water, typically provided by a solar-powered borehole and treatment plant. In addition to providing 45,000 people with access to water in 2019, Diageo trained 287 women entrepreneurs to maintain and run the facilities — increasing their incomes, while ensuring the ATMs are at the heart of their communities.

Responding to the current pandemic and preparing for future shocks will require access to clean water and sanitation for all. COVID-19 has reminded us that no one is safe from the virus until all are safe.

The theme for this year’s World Water Day is “valuing water” — never has it been more important to do so. It is our most precious resource and the key to successfully delivering the SDGs in the critical decade ahead.


This article was written by Kate Gibson, Global Director of Society at Diageo and originally published on Brink News. To view the original article, click here.

Photo: John Moore/Getty Images


This is the first in a series about the role of business in achieving the SDGs.

The Sustainable Development Goals celebrated their fifth anniversary last September during a year that caused progress towards most of these goals to slow down, stop or, in many cases, reverse. The global pandemic negatively impacted almost all of the issues found in the SDG framework.

Unlike their predecessors, the Millennium Development Goals, the SDGs were developed with input from businesses. Companies helped shape the agenda, agreeing in principle to hold themselves accountable for their part in achieving the Goals by 2030. The resources, innovation and adaptability of the private sector are critical for attaining the ambitious set of 17 global Goals and 169 targets.



As companies line up to nail their colors to the mast on the topics of race, climate change, gender, education and more, the time has come for the private sector to double down on tackling the world’s biggest challenges.

Many people remain skeptical of the notion that business can truly be a force for good — and that skepticism is well earned. Decades of tax avoidance, corporate lobbying and human rights abuses have played their part in tarnishing the private sector’s reputation.

Yet, according to the recent Edelman survey, trust in business is currently higher (61%) than in NGOs (57%), government (53%) and the media (51%). And trust in peoples’ own employers is significantly higher still (76%). Furthermore, of the above listed institutions, business is the only one seen by a majority as both competent and ethical.

As governments falter at hurdle-after-hurdle in dealing with the pandemic and its effects, a large proportion of businesses have managed to act in the best interests of their employees and broader stakeholders. With the rollout of the vaccine program, we have witnessed the incredible power of private sector innovation when combined with public sector investment (SDG Goal 3 – Good Health and Wellbeing). Technological innovations fueled by entrepreneurial solutions enabled huge sections of the population to continue working remotely when offices closed (Goal 8 – Decent Work and Economic Growth).



With this increase in corporate standing and trust comes more responsibility.

Companies and CEOs are increasingly expected to take the lead on societal change, rather than wait for governments to impose it. They are also increasingly at risk of being called out for poor practice in the wake of movements such as #MeToo and Black Lives Matter (Goal 5 – Gender Equality and Goal 10 – Reduced Inequalities) and of being held accountable by customers and employees if their business practices don’t parallel the values they say they believe in.

On the climate side, it is no longer ‘news’ to declare a net zero plan by 2050 — companies are under increasing pressure to do so by 2040 or sooner (Goal 13 – Climate Action).


“Times of crisis are opportunities to re-evaluate our priorities — every company should be taking this opportunity to examine their business practices, their purpose and their impact.”


It would be naive to suggest that pure altruism is fueling this sea change in corporate behavior, but it is just as much of a fallacy to suggest it is merely cynical posturing and box checking.



What we are witnessing is a show of enlightened self-interest. According to research, purpose-driven companies witness higher market share gains and grow three times faster on average than their competitors — all while achieving higher workforce and customer satisfaction. They are a magnet for talent.

The recognition that there are ‘no jobs on a dead planet’ is growing, shorthand for the effects the climate and ecological emergency is already wreaking on the economy in the form of floods, storms, fires and, of course, the global pandemic.

At Project Everyone, we convene a group called the Business Avengers: Seventeen companies who believe in the Sustainable Development Goals as a route for progress and who are leading in areas related to one or more of the Goals.

Some of the largest and most influential companies in the world — such as Google, Microsoft, Unilever and Mastercard — are increasingly using the SDGs, not merely as a CSR tool, but as a means to shape their long-term strategic planning and vision. It has been incredibly gratifying, when speaking to these companies, to hear their intentions to use this moment to ‘double down’ on ambitious target setting and sustainability commitments, even in the wake of vast challenges to their operations.



The SDGs provide the Business Avengers and other companies, large and small, with a comprehensive and robust framework to help measure their impact, both positive and negative, on the societies they operate in.

They serve as a reminder of the interconnected nature of these huge global challenges, and can help frame a narrative of how companies are striving to be responsible businesses by taking a systematic approach to all areas in which they either have material impact or the ability to affect.

In addition, the SDGs can be used to engage employees with an agenda that might otherwise sit isolated in sustainability teams. Their breadth means that every employee is likely to see themselves reflected in at least one of the Goals.

One may be passionate about female representation at the executive level (Goal 5 – Gender Equality), another about protecting the oceans (Goal 14 – Life Below Water) and another about species extinction (Goal 15 – Life on Land). Those employees can gain a sense of pride that their company is taking action, be encouraged to push for more ambition internally, use volunteer days or donate to charities to advance progress toward their chosen Goal.

Times of crisis are opportunities to re-evaluate our priorities. They are moments to shift and innovate. Every company should be taking this opportunity to examine their business practices, their purpose and their impact. The SDGs provide the most complete framework to do just that.


This article was written by Jon Hales, Business and Climate Director at Project Everyone and originally published on Brink News. To view the original article, click here.

Photo: James Wasserman/Getty Images for Global Goals/United Nations