Finance key to a sustainable water future

CDP Global Water Director Cate Lamb speaking at British Water’s International Reception

More businesses than ever are realising their long-term prosperity depends on having enough water at the right time. However, while interest in protecting water is increasing, its mismanagement in some sectors is still resulting in significant business failure.

This insight came from Cate Lamb, global water director at CDP, a non-governmental organisation which encourages large corporations to take action to build a sustainable economy by measuring their water and carbon footprint.

As keynote speaker at British Water’s International Reception, held at the Institution of Civil Engineers, London, on 21 November, Lamb told delegates from around the world. She said, “We are excited by the increased interest in water from business and appreciate that good practice does exist in some places. Yet we are witnessing a mixed response from many companies.

“When you’ve got a business model and a product that is not aligned with the future that we want, that’s a sunset business industry and a sunset business model and that message is resonating really strongly with the institutional investors that we work with and is putting pressure on your customers to innovate new ways of doing business. This is less about a water issue for us, it’s a fundamental business issue.”

With the food, textile, energy, industrial chemical, pharmaceutical and mining industries accounting for more than 70-80% of the world’s freshwater use, Lamb said those who “control the money” could be key to change.

“We believe effective capital markets, commercial banks, asset owners, asset managers, ratings agencies and insurance firms can provide a spark by offering unique incentives for change by ensuring their investment and lending practices drive improvement in water management and business management from these companies.

“Imagine if the flow of capital was working in our favour. Imagine if it was providing the incentive for companies in these sectors to grow and affect freshwater resources differently. Those types of loans are emerging, we’re seeing more commercial banks coming to us seeking opportunities to offer those kinds of product.”

Lamb urged all delegates to increase their knowledge of the finance world, so it can become a positive vehicle for change.

“I’d love to see us all become a little bit more aware of how these economic actors influence our everyday decisions, so that we can ultimately change that system and make it work in our favour,” said Lamb.

British Water’s International Conference, which followed on 22 November, highlighted opportunities and funding streams and gave members the chance to connect with global water leaders.

Held at Canary Wharf, the theme was Tomorrow’s Water. Speakers included Cassie Sutherland from Greater London Authority, who spoke about steps being taken to ensure London’s long-term resilience to severe weather and climate change, and its ambitions to become a zero carbon and zero waste city.

Also speaking was David Reavley, chief executive, Solar Water, who said the solutions to the world’s water scarcity crisis were there. Reavley said, “The technology abounds. Change is needed now, not tomorrow. We have to go and tell the world how we can help, how we can help solve their problems. It’s about going out and saving a billion people who have got no water today.”

Reflecting on the day, British Water chief executive Lila Thompson said, “Our International Reception and Conference were inspiring and thought-provoking, giving us the opportunity to discuss solutions to the unprecedented global water challenges we face today.

“As an outcome of the events, we will be compiling a list of UK companies that have the tools needed to deliver tangible change. Events like this prove our sector has the technology, capability and desire to change the future of global water and I am excited to see the transformation.”