Sustainability in the Water Sector


Sustainability is a cross-cutting objective of the International Water Association which cuts across and applies to all of its programs and specialist groups. As indicated in The Lisbon Charter published by IWA in 2015, IWA covers all facets of the water cycle, and in all areas concerns itself with the long-term protection of people, economic activities, and the environment. The role of the Sustainability Specialist Group is to develop tools, products, and activities that will help all those whose actions involve water (e.g., utilities, regulators, educators, government agencies, the public, and industry) do so from a perspective that takes into account economic, social, and environmental factors, both today and for the future.

Because a commitment to sustainability underlies all IWA programs, the Sustainability Specialist Group has the potential to collaborate with and support any aspect of IWA’s work.

Sustainability issues, which relate to every aspect of water supply, water quality, transmission, use and reuse, resource recovery, and energy use, are pivotal to our water future, and more basically, our future as a thriving species on a healthy planet. Failing this long-term perspective and implementation of programs consistent with it, both human beings and the environment will increasingly suffer water shortages, water quality degradation, climate change-induced challenges such as rising sea levels and changed precipitation patterns, and associated economic, human health, social, and ecosystem impacts. It will not suffice for a broader, more sophisticated understanding of these inter-relationships to inform water-related activities in small, high-income pockets of the globe; rather, this is a global challenge in which water and energy-related activities in one part of the globe will affect the lives of people in another. Further, our vulnerability and the priority of addressing these issues needs to be understood not only by academicians, water providers, and regulators, but also by an expanding proportion of the public, and by the industries and governmental and financial organizations that can (or should have)  an impact on global water use.

The International Water Association has a vital role to play in providing information on useful tools and opportunities as industrial water users (e.g., in mining, manufacturing, and the oil and gas industry) see threats to water as a basic unit of production, and as regulators and financial institutions become sensitive to water-related threats posed to human health and the environment.   Consistent with this role, The Lisbon Charter reflected collaboration with regulators, while the Industry Forum conducted at the World Water Symposium in Lisbon reflected active outreach to industry. In order for scientific findings to move beyond research into policy, from policy into regulations and guidelines, and from directives into the day-to-day practice of the individuals and organizations that use water, IWA’s commitment to communication and collaboration with groups beyond the professional water community  will need to continue to expand. The activities of the Sustainability Specialist Group are designed to both encourage and support movement from theory to implementation.

The change that will, over time, be transformational in this field will be a growing understanding among key stakeholders (including the public, regulators, lenders, government officials, educators, and industry) of the complex set of inter-relationships between energy, food, economies, communities, and the environment, and that all components of the complex web depend on an endangered resource, water. This will be an incremental change, one that has already started, which the Sustainability Specialist Group will help move forward through the following activities:

The Sustainability in Industry Working Group is developing a toolbox of products (customized by industry) which will include succinct sustainability guidelines, proven analytical tools, templates for assessments, best management practices, and training materials for industry staff.

The Workforce Sustainability Working Group is performing research on best management practices in candidate development, staff preparedness (e.g., documentation, staff training, and knowledge management), optimized use of staffing, and collaboration among utilities and stakeholders), and disseminating this information (the IWA Water and Development Conference in Jordan will include a workshop on workforce reliability as the key to operational reliability).

The Economics of Ecosystems Working Group is developing an economic framework that takes into account the value derived from ecosystem services, as well as profits from resource recovery and investment in the costs of water/wastewater services.

The BeCleantech Initiative is creating a database on clean technologies in order to generate data-driven insights about Cleantech trends, gaps, innovations, and strategic synergies and antagonisms (presented at the World Water Symposium in Lisbon).

A fifth Working Group publishes the IWA-Elsevier Journal Sustainability of Water Quality and Ecology and provides related workshops (such as a workshop at the World Water Forum in the spring of 2015 on Pending Research Questions Linked to Sustainability Assessment: An Analysis Based on Integrated Perspectives from the Water Energy Food/Ecosystem Nexus).