Corporate Social Responsibility has emerged as a strong mechanism for businesses to affect community-based water projects. Between 2014 and 2019, CSR has funded over Rs. 5,018 crores in environmental sustainability, Rs. 2,087 crores in sanitation and Rs. 824 crores in safe drinking water in India according to a report by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Sattva.
Interventions such as building and maintenance of check-dams, rainwater harvesting systems, installing community RO plants and implementing WASH-related interventions are recurring ones. The challenge, however, is that these CSR projects often lack long-term sustainability for two reasons: the absence of a well-conceived operations and management (O&M) plan; and a lack of effective stakeholder management. Finding the right partners is a key aspect in ensuring the implementation of sustainable WASH CSR projects. Developing relationships with all stakeholders, including the communities, creates a greater opportunity of being successful and sustainable.
Under its Green CSR mission, Godrej Agrovet has undertaken four watershed projects across four states, covering 12,000 hectares, recharging the groundwater with 10-15 million KL of water annually.
In their yearly community meets, Jubilant Life Sciences (JLS) discusses relevant water conservation solutions with the local communities and works with them towards their adoption. For example, for rainwater harvesting, the company has identified 200 village ponds and made RWH structures in collaboration with the local communities. Additionally, JLS also tries to identify nearby cities and towns whose sewage water can be treated and used in its own operations.
The tissue culture approach developed by Jain Irrigation helps reduce disease infestation in banana crops. Similarly, their contribution towards making high-density mangoes enables farmers to improve their yield per acre by manifolds. Along with community-based water projects, the company is leveraging R&D capabilities to create water-efficient products. Jain Irrigation’s product range includes micro-irrigation systems, both drip and sprinkler-based systems, that are created to improve the farm yield for smallholder farmers.
The shared nature of water necessitates the adoption of collaborative approaches for its management. Collaborations in water management are said to be needed to understand the true cost of water and to set more appropriate pricing to encourage the behavioural change necessary for its long-term sustainability.
Although there is a lack of policy incentives to encourage businesses to take part in watershed management projects, local governments are often enthusiastic to collaborate, which can enhance the effectiveness of these projects. Government bodies can provide data and insights on the needs of the region, the socio-cultural dynamic, and provide inroads to the communities.
In a partnership with the state government of Tamil Nadu and the Tamil Nadu Agriculture University, ITC Ltd. organises a Farmer Water Mela to sensitise farmers towards the adoption of water-saving practices.
Chennai Petroleum Company Limited (CPCL) curtailed its Manali Refinery operations because of the city’s severe shortage of water. In order to increase the amount of available water in Chennai, the company’s management team made a significant investment in a new wastewater reclamation plant that would take municipal sewage from the Chennai Metro Water District and render it clean enough for industrial operations in the refinery.
Under a tripartite partnership between Coca Cola India, the state government of Maharashtra, and Jain Irrigation Systems, 2.5 lakh farmers in water-stressed regions of the state are set to be benefitted through opportunities to create a diverse crop portfolio.
Inter-firm/ industry collaborations
Another area for building sustainable collaborations has been through partnering with other firms across multiple industries. This approach frequently takes the shape of some form of knowledge-sharing between different businesses, thus reducing the burden on individual players, while ensuring a wider impact.
For instance, Tata Consumer Products’ collaboration with the Ethical Tea Partnership and Solidaridad has helped them in training tea farmers with sustainable practices like drip irrigation and rainwater harvesting. In this case, previous experience of the partner organisations results in efficient knowledge-sharing between all the parties involved.
Another example of this form of resource sharing is seen with IOCL (Indian Oil Company Ltd). At its Mathura refinery, the company has agreed to use treated water from a nearby sewage treatment plant.