Australian SDGs Hub for Business


Access to water and sanitation are fundamental human rights, vital to public health, and the eradication of poverty and hunger.

In 2015, an estimated 91% of the world’s population (6.6 billion people) had access to water that was protected from outside contamination, up from 82% in 2000.1

An estimated 68% of the world’s population had access to adequate sanitation in 2015, up from 59%. But still some 2.4 billion people did not, including 946 million who, with no access to any facilities, had no choice but to defecate in the open.1

Water stress, a ratio of total fresh water withdrawn by all major sectors to total renewable fresh water resources, affected more than 2 billion people.2 And the combined forces of increased urbanisation, a growing world population, extreme weather events, climate change, pollution and other factors will further stress water supplies.

The magnitude of the problem has prompted the UN General Assembly to declare a new International Decade for Action on “Water for Sustainable Development,” starting March 2018.3

Overall, Australians have excellent access to clean water and effective sanitation, but some remote communities suffer from water and hygiene-related problems, with resultant health challenges.4

As the world’s driest inhabited continent, Australia must ensure effective management of its water resources. Australia has extensive arid areas and a highly variable climate that generates periods of drought, water scarcity and flooding at different times and in different places. The state of its inland waters is a significant ecological, social and industrial issue, with climate change, the intensity of extreme rainfall events and time spent in drought among key future risks.5


How is this relevant to business?

Water is vital to heating and cooling, and in many cases it is a significant operational input. Security of supply is a fundamental need, not just for business, but the broader community and the environment.

Sound management of Australia’s water resources is critical to the nation’s future prosperity as population growth, climate change and ageing infrastructure significantly alter supply and demand. Against this backdrop, environmentalists, industry groups and government are looking at how Australia can better manage its water.

The Australian Water Association, concerned about future water security, has suggested new methods of financing may help provide access to lower cost capital for infrastructure investment.6

In 2017, the government announced a Productivity Commission inquiry into the reform of Australia’s water resources sector. It will assess a key component of the nation’s water management efforts, the 2004 National Water Initiative, which focuses on both resource management and pricing.


What can business do?

For all of Australia’s abundant resources, water is not one of them.

It is important that businesses appreciate the value of water, use it responsibly and minimise pollution of waterways. Companies need risk assessments related to water use and implement strategies to ensure suppliers are taking a responsible approach to water use.

“When things go wrong, not only is production at stake, reputation and licence to operate are too … so the decisions around water have far reaching consequences.” (PwC)


Act Responsibly

  • Measure the business’ water footprint and understand the impact of water use on the local community and in the value chain
  • Reduce water consumption and treat, recycle and reuse wastewater
  • Minimise and appropriately treat effluent from facilities and avoid contaminating water sources
  • Promote regular handwashing and other hygienic behaviours among employees and local communities

Find Opportunity

  • Consider water risks and determine a value for water (i.e. natural capital accounting), and apply the economic value in decision making and internal/external reporting
  • For communities with limited access to water near operations, look at ways to integrate their needs and improve access to water
  • Adopt best water usage practices in production processes and apply innovative water conversation technologies
  • Reduce water consumption by adopting closed-loop processes or eliminating the use of water entirely
  • Engage in collective action approaches to water stewardship and disclosure, such as the CEO Water Mandate and the Water Action Hub. These platforms unite companies, governments, NGOs, and other stakeholders on a range of critical water projects in specific river basins
  • Sign the WASH pledge of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development which calls on companies to implement access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene in the workplace
  • Build on the responsible investment work of the Caring for Climate partners to leverage sphere of influence and encourage other companies, people and governments to disclose their environmental impacts, reduce their environmental footprint and decouple growth from energy use (e.g. by accurately pricing environmental risk into asset allocation and underwriting decisions).


Links between Goal 6 and the UN Global Compact’s ten principles

Human Rights & Labour (UN Global Compact Principles 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6)

The right to water and sanitation was explicitly recognised as a human right by the United Nations General Assembly in 2010. The supply of sufficient water that is safe to drink, accessible and affordable, and sanitation, with privacy and dignity, for all are essential to the realisation of many other human rights. Without access to water and sanitation, populations are more vulnerable to manipulation, exploitation and corruption.

Environment (UN Global Compact Principles 7, 8, 9)

Access to water and sanitation needs to be handled in sympathy with the environmental situation. Water is a limited resource requiring responsible stewardship. Poorly developed sanitation infrastructure (as well as the lack of any infrastructure) poses a threat to water supplies and human health.

Anti-Corruption (UN Global Compact Principle 10)

Corruption can distort the provision of water and sanitation infrastructure, influencing location, efficiency and cost. It often feeds injustice and inequity. Corrupt practices in other sectors also can lead to contamination of water supplies and increased salinity.


1 United Nations Economic and Social Council (2016)

2 United Nations Sustainable Development Platform

3 United Nations (2016),

4 The Conversation (2016),

5 Department of the Environment and Energy (2017)

6 Australia Water Association (2017),



By 2030, achieve universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all

By 2030, achieve access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and end open defecation, paying special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations

By 2030, improve water quality by reducing pollution, eliminating dumping and minimizing release of hazardous chemicals and materials, halving the proportion of untreated wastewater and substantially increasing recycling and safe reuse globally

By 2030, substantially increase water-use efficiency across all sectors and ensure sustainable withdrawals and supply of freshwater to address water scarcity and substantially reduce the number of people suffering from water scarcity

By 2030, implement integrated water resources management at all levels, including through transboundary cooperation as appropriate

By 2020, protect and restore water-related ecosystems, including mountains, forests, wetlands, rivers, aquifers and lakes

By 2030, expand international cooperation and capacity-building support to developing countries in water- and sanitation-related activities and programmes, including water harvesting, desalination, water efficiency, wastewater treatment, recycling and reuse technologies

Support and strengthen the participation of local communities in improving water and sanitation management




The Aqueduct Water Risk Atlas is a comprehensive database with global coverage of current and future water risk indicators. It leverages recent science and climate models (included in the IPCC AR5) to provide credible metrics that track water risks at a scale appropriate for developing business and investment strategies.

The AWS International Water Stewardship Standard is an international, ISEAL-compliant, standard and defines a set of water stewardship criteria and indicators for how water should be stewarded at a site and catchment level in order to be environmentally, socially, and economically beneficial. It provides a six-step continual improvement framework that enables sites to commit to, understand, plan, implement, evaluate and communicate water stewardship actions.

Corporate Water Gauge is a context-based metric for assessing the ecological sustainability of an organisation’s water use.

The GEMI Local Water Tool (LWT) is a free tool to help companies assess impacts, risks and opportunities, and manage water-related issues at specific sites. The information generated can be used for internal and external communication.

The GRI Water Performance Indicators help organisations set goals, measure performance and manage change in order to implement better practices.

The Ceres Aqua Gauge helps equity investors better understand and engage with companies concerning their water management issues. It provides guidance to companies seeking to build or strengthen their corporate water strategy and management approach.

The Water Risk Filter helps investors understand and analyse their exposure to water-related business risks during scanning and due diligence phases, and/or integrated in portfolio monitoring.

Water4Biz is an online guide designed to help businesses manage water more sustainably by providing an overview of water tools and initiatives.

WBCSD’s Global Water Tool is a free, publicly available resource for identifying corporate water risks and opportunities. It includes a workbook (data input, inventory by site, key reporting indicators, metrics calculations), a mapping function to plot sites with datasets, and Google Earth interface for spatial viewing. The Global Water Tool has also been customised to individual sectors (versions available for download on the WBCSD website). The India Water Tool (IWT) is also available on the website.

The WFN Water Footprint Assessment Tool is an indicator that looks at both direct and indirect freshwater use of consumers or producers. It quantifies the water footprint, assesses its sustainability and impacts, and formulates response strategies. It can be applied at a geographical level (e.g. river basin) and at a product or facility level (including supply-chain).

For more goal-related tools, go to the Inventory of Business Tools webpage on the SDG Compass website. Businesses can explore and find commonly used tools when assessing their impact on SDGs.