Access to clean water and adequate sanitation is essential for a decent human life and moreover, it is recognized as a right of all people by the United Nations General Assembly and the Un Human Rights Council (Hutton, 2012).
Throughout history, the increase in accessibility of safe water and sanitation facilities, together with hygiene education has resulted in significant reductions in mortality and morbidity.
However, the world is still far away from achieving SDG 6. There are still 2.2 billion people who do not have access to drinking water and more than 4.2 billion people who do not have access to adequate sanitation (United Nations, n.d.)
The situation is even more complicated in low-and middle-income countries, where 827.000 people die as a result of poor sanitation, inadequate water and the scarcity of hygiene. It is estimated that in those territories diarrhoea remains the major cause of death (WHO, 2019).
Countries with inadequate sanitation have the highest number of deaths of children under 5 years old, and also the highest levels of malnutrition, poverty and social inequality (WHO, 2019b).
In addition, the lack of clean water and sanitation got even more critical during the COVID-19 pandemic as it is clear that hygiene and health education are essential to avoid the spread of the virus.
According to the World Health Organization, the total economic benefits from achieving proper sanitation is US$ 5.50 for every US$ 1.00 invested. And this gain comes from the lower health costs, fewer premature deaths and an increase in productivity due to the value of time savings (WHO, 2019b).
Moreover, with better access to these resources, more children and adults attend school instead of spending hours each day collecting water, consequently also increasing the education level of these countries (OECD, 2011).
That is why, more than ever, it is time for the world to take urgent actions in order to provide water and sanitation for those billions of people and therefore overcome this global crisis together with providing economic growth and environmental sustainability.
Governments have a strong responsibility in guaranteeing clean water and sanitation for all their citizens. But on the other hand, there are many things that could be done by both private companies and citizens.
Having this in mind, GründerAtelier shares important pieces of information to entrepreneurs who decided to take part in this mission and develop their startup aiming to achieve SDG 6, or simply to people who want to contribute to the achievement of this crucial goal.
We believe that with everyone’s commitment we will be able to solve critical global problems.
Some actions that companies and their employees can take
SDG 6 is at the core of sustainable development and it has been a big challenge to implement access to drinking water and sanitation in all societies.
On top of that, climate change is bringing even more pressure on this situation. According to the United Nations, 80 per cent of wastewater in the world flows back into the ecosystem without being treated or reused, and 70 per cent of the world’s natural wetland extent has been lost (United Nations, n.d.).
If we also consider the competition for clean freshwater by agriculture, households, energy generation, industrial use and so on, we see that the problem is trending in the wrong direction. We can understand how this is a risky scenario for businesses, governments, communities and of course, for the environment.
Having stated the main problems caused by the lack of clean water and sanitation, it is time to present some smart practices to implement in your organization.
Organizing workshops on the topic is a great way for a company to educate its employees on the various facets of the problem (SDG Compass, n.d.). They can be structured as practical tips for their daily life or with a more analytical approach to the phenomenon.
Other measures that can be taken are to make your staff aware of the importance of shutting taps, fixing leaks, installing best practice technologies for water conservation and using dual flush systems in order to save water when flushing toilets. Also, a performance bonus system can be applied to incentivize the personnel to respect these instructions.
Work together with organizations
Startups can work together with groups such as governments or community groups in order to improve the local water governance or help in water management projects.
Another option is to donate and/or invest money to a local water or nature conservation organization with sanitation projects or infrastructure in poor regions (SDG Compass, n.d.).
Avoid the use of chemicals
Even though it can be a big challenge for some companies, it is extremely important to avoid chemicals and other materials that can be harmful to water quality.
Another important point to remember is to reduce chemical discharge to drains. Companies must keep to the limits, and in case of exceeding this limit, it will be necessary to pay fines. In other words, the goal of having these limits set is to reduce water pollution (“SDG 6 Business Support for Clean Water & Sanitation,” n.d.).
For any questions about the limit restrictions, you can also contact your local Environment Agency.
Measure your results and communicate them
Setting a goal is useless if you do not measure results and make the proper adjustments where needed.
You have also to communicate your progress towards it both internally, to your people, and externally, to the other stakeholders.
Take care of your employees
Do your employees and their families have access to drinking water and appropriate sanitation?
Ensure that your staff has a decent human life outside the workplace together with awareness about hygiene practices. This, besides other benefits, will also improve productivity.
Invest in water treatment
Investing in water treatment not only reduces company costs but also generates ecological benefits being extremely important for the environment (SDG Compass, n.d.).
Moreover, this investment reduces the incidence of illnesses and consequently health costs, and municipal treatment facilities are not overburdened by industrial wastewater. In other words, at the end of the cycle, it contributes to overall productivity.
Clean water and sanitation companies to take inspiration from
Having already mentioned the actions that every company should take in order to contribute to SDG 6, we will now explore some startups that are making moves towards their goal of increasing the accessibility of clean water.
SEMiLLA is a Dutch startup that aims to improve ambient water quality, by developing sanitary wastewater treatment. This way, using biological or physical treatment, helps not only to recover water for reuse in conjunction with precious metals and other chemicals but also reduces the pollutants in lakes, seas and oceans.
Having this in mind, the company helps the improvement of ambient water quality (StartUs, n.d.).
Israeli startup Hilico develops a rainwater harvesting solution. The aim of the company is to reduce the waste of rainwater as it is a free and sustainable water source.
Their system is easy to install as well as it is lightweight, therefore is also possible to use in small places. In addition, it enables water self-sufficiency and reduces pollution once it does not need electricity to work (StartUs, n.d.).
Aqulytics is a startup based in the US that provides a water data management system, in order to ensure sustainable distributions and use of water resources. Consequently, cities can manage water use in an efficient way and also enable them to reduce water loss.
The startup system gives information and strategic insight into freshwater resources around the world. In addition, it monitors the quality of wastewater, showing if the levels of heavy metals, toxic sludges and other wastes are within stipulated environmental standards (StartUs, n.d.).
Aquahara is a German startup that focuses on acquiring new sources of water from the atmosphere.
The idea is to develop an industrial air dehumidification technology that uses salt to absorb water and solar energy to heat the salt solution in a distillation unit, consequently recovering the water. The company produces 100 litres of water per day with 400 square meters of solar panels (StartUs, n.d.).
In order to provide drinking water for those who lack access to it, the Indonesian startup Social Impakt developed a ceramic gravity-fed water filter.
The system has a ceramic filter placed in the top bucket that filters out bacteria and parasites by size. Colloidal silver is mixed with the ceramic to kill viruses and bacteria. The water has a neutral taste due to the layer of activated charcoal inside the filter that filters any chemicals, pesticides, chlorine and other substances.
The filter is approved by the WHO.
In addition, these water filters also have a positive environmental impact. As it is not necessary to boil the filtered water over the last 6 years, this system has saved 34 500 Tons of Co2. And that is not all, it also helped to reduce plastic bottles by 183 million units (StartUs, n.d.).
What can you do in your daily life to contribute to clean water and sanitation?
It is also important to mention that even if you don’t have your own startup, you can still contribute to the achievement of clean water and sanitation, through small actions in your daily life.
Here you can check out a list of individual actions that help in the accomplishment of SGD 6.
- Choose environmentally friendly and chemical-free products to use in your everyday routine.
- Do not dispose of cooking oil down the drain.
- It is also possible to invest in water treatment in your house.
- Save water. Do not take long showers or leave the taps open unnecessarily, keep the lights off while you are not using it, leave outlets for equipment that are not being used unplugged into the electrical network.
- Always dispose of the trash in a suitable place and tie the bags securely before putting them in the trash can.
GründerAtelier’s Impact Accelerator
This was the sixth article of our SDGs series, which aims to make the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals easy to put into practice for startups and entrepreneurs, in general.
If you are in charge or work for an impact-related startup that supports one or multiple SDGs you can apply to our Impact Accelerator where we will guide you through the journey to become investment-ready and, then, introduce you to our VC partners.
Hutton, G. (2012). Global costs and benefits of drinking-water supply and sanitation interventions to reach the MDG target and universal coverage. Journal of Water and Health, 11(1), 1–12. Retrieved from http://www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/publications/2012/global_costs/en/. Accessed on 05/08/21.
United Nations. (n.d.). Water and sanitation. Department of Economic and Social Affairs Sustainable. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.4337/9781788117975.00086. Accessed on 06/08/21.
OECD. (2011). “Providing access to services”, in Benefits of Investing in Water and Sanitation: An OECD Perspective. Retrieved from https://read.oecd-ilibrary.org/environment/benefits-of-investing-in-water-and-sanitation/providing-access-to-services_9789264100817-7-en#page23. Accessed on 06/08/21.
SDG 6 Business Support for Clean Water & Sanitation. (n.d.). Smart Money Green Planet. Retrieved from https://smartmoneygreenplanet.com/sdg6-business-support-clean-water-sanitation/. Accessed on 06/08/21.
SDG Compass. (n.d.). SDG 6: Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all. SDG Compass. https://doi.org/10.1201/9780367814960-6. Accessed on 05/08/21.
StartUs. (n.d.). Discover 5 Top Startups working towards the UN’s SDG 6 – Clean Water & Sanitation guide. Retrieved from https://www.startus-insights.com/innovators-guide/discover-5-top-startups-working-towards-the-uns-sdg-6-clean-water-sanitation/. Accessed on 04/08/21.
WHO. (2019). Sanitation 14. (June), 2–4. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/sanitation. Accessed on 05/08/21.
WHO. (2019b). Sanitation 14. Word Health Organization, (June), 2–4. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/sanitation. Accessed on 05/08/21.