Performance of water utilities beyond compliance - Green economy context
Embedding water management in a green economy (43) requires that it be managed from economic, social and environmental perspectives. The transition to a green economy presents a triple challenge. First, there is a need to focus on the economy, finding ways to increase prosperity without increasing resource use and environmental impacts — put simply, to be more resource-efficient. However, resource efficiency alone cannot guarantee steady or declining resource use or sustainability: users could become more efficient, but still place excessive demands on the environment. So the second challenge to achieve sustainability is the need to maintain the ecosystem's resilience, something governed by the status, trends and limits of natural systems. The third element is human well-being, including health, employment, job satisfaction, social capital and equity. This also includes a fair distribution of the benefits and costs of transition to a green economy. In balancing environmental, economic and social elements, the green economy concept evidently has much in common with some models of sustainable development: the triple challenge of economic efficiency, ecological sustainability and social equity (UNEP, International Resource panel, 2012) (44).
As a resource vital for both humankind and ecosystems, water is under increased pressure: the availability and quality of safe and secure water resources need to be accounted for, due to factors like deforestation, urbanisation, population and economic growth, and climate change. It is therefore critical that urban water management respects the natural limits of the ecosystem, both in terms of available resources from where it is abstracted, and in terms of capacity for maintaining good ecological status in water bodies receiving discharges.
The Stockholm Statement (2011) (45) has already described water as the 'bloodstream of the green economy', highlighting how central water will be to the innovative thinking and effective solutions required to establish a green economy.
In the context of shifting towards this green economy, resource-efficient urban water management is essential if we are to achieve balance, in the light of greater demands from residential users, industry, farmers and electricity generation.
Water management operations conducted in a resource-efficient way can stimulate technological innovation at a time when there are opportunities to boost employment in the fast-developing 'green technology' sector. Like most activities and sectors that interact heavily with the environment, urban water management presents opportunities to use resources wisely, driving down their costs, and improving productivity — and corporate image — while boosting their competitiveness. Smarter resource use can result in environmental gains that improve people's quality of life directly.
Figure 5.3 illustrates how the SWWA has adapted green economy principles to urban water management.
See here, page 29.