United States Business Council for Sustainable Development

a replicable business solution for improving watershed collaboration between stakeholders to reduce shared water risks

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Water Synergy Project

For the past four years the US BCSD has been working with 23 diverse companies in the lower Mississippi River Basin to address a range of water supplywater qualitystormwater and coastal resiliency risks. Companies are working together to address water quality concerns through design of a Water Quality Trading Program, and have explored new options for wetlands restoration through changes in water management. Projects and policy recommendations have emerged that have been greeted with high interest by state and local agencies, academia, and NGOs. This multi-sector teaming demonstrates that there is considerable regional interest in using the speed and efficiency of market-based institutions to seek out ways of converting water problems into economic opportunities, and to developing a collective capacity for conserving watershed systems as both private and public goods.

Water issues are best addressed locally, but there are few forums where leaders from multiple industries can participate in focused interactions to identify issues, find and prioritize alternative solutions, and craft implementation plans for their region. The US BCSD uses structured work processes to provide a “safe” zone among companies to build trust and business relationships needed for information sharing that leads to inventive thinking and action.

Project Goals

  • Achieve tangible water synergy benefits for participating companies and the communities where they operate.

  • Link the efforts of the private sector with those underway in the public sector.

  • Establish a long-term water collaboration plan for this region.

  • Develop a replicable work process that can be applied in other watersheds/ regions.


“I think the Water Synergy Project was and is a great idea. All that I can say is that the sky is the limit as to where it can go and is up to the team to determine. The best thing about the project is the diverse group of stakeholders at all levels that it brought together. We have industry, agriculture, and regulatory representatives sitting at the same table, working together to develop innovative solutions to complex issues. I would be glad to discuss the Water Synergy Project with people from other regions.” Eric Hillman, EHS Specialist, BASF

Path to Scale

Idea (2012): adapt the US BCSD's regional work process, proven effective on materials reuse projects, to address local water issues in water-stressed regions.

Action (current): four years in, participating companies in southern Louisiana are continuing to work together to identify and implement actionable projects and opportunities. Examples are outlined below.

Scale: replicate the project in multiple regions across the US, deploy the coastal zone resiliency financing initiative, and share our results world-wide for international adoption.


Louisiana Water Synergy Project Participants


financial supporters, partners, collaborators and stakeholders include


Project Results

Based on participant feedback, one of the most important values this project delivers is that it brings business leaders from multiple industries together to talk with each other and with government, academic, and NGO leaders about regional water sustainability issues and take action to address those issues. That was not happening before this project.

The project is receiving increased recognition as an effective and scalable business solution for watershed stewardship. For example, since 2014 Yale University has featured the project in the Yale Global Natural Capital MBA Course, highlighting how participation is supporting Coca-Cola’s corporate commitment to sustainable water use for their operations. Because of this success, US BCSD is identifying other watersheds where this type of project can be replicated. The following projects demonstrate the types of collaborative work underway in the project and expected outcomes.


Coastal Zone Resiliency Financing Initiative

The Water Synergy Project has identified challenges around the availability of funding, especially for capital investments in natural of hybrid (green-gray) infrastructure that can scale up coastal restoration efforts. This initiative was established to explore better ways to attract and leverage that investment. A wide variety of infrastructure projects (marsh vegetative planting, breakwaters, sediment diversions, etc.), are proposed to support coastal zone protection and restoration. These projects can create multiple benefits for multiple beneficiaries that may make projects extremely valuable and leverage investment well. However the benefits are not easily collected, quantified, and monetized in a way that satisfies either public or private funders. As a result, funding may be too little, too late, or both under existing funding mechanisms.

We plan to use “live case studies” to create and test a breakthrough process to attract private capital to supplement and leverage public sector funding for coastal zone restoration. Our goal is to build a replicable model for application in Louisiana and beyond by 2017.


Louisiana Coastal Zone Game

With funding support from ConocoPhillips and Entergy, the University of Virginia Center for Leadership Simulation and Gaming has built a prototype for a high quality, analytically rich multi-player simulation game of the Louisiana coastal zone to engage and educate stakeholders about coastal resilience challenges and solutions. The game focuses on environmental issues and impacts, but includes a broader range of social and economic consequences. It offers a proven approach to stimulating constructive conversations around critical issues by enabling players to explore and understand mutual interests, trade-offs, and unintended consequences of business decisions as they take stakeholder roles like fishermen, corporations, developers, federal, state and local government, and NGOs. Next step is gaining input from actual game deployments to complete the game final version in 2016.

Water Quality/Ecosystem Service Trading Program

Project participants are working with several state agencies to design a framework for an innovative water quality/ecosystem services trading program for Louisiana. This program will help demonstrate that voluntary measures can successfully improve water quality in Louisiana at a lower cost than traditional regulatory approaches while also increasing coastal resiliency and groundwater recharge through restoration and protection of wetlands and floodplains. In addition, this program may provide agricultural businesses and landowners with additional revenue sources and regulators with more policy options for improving water quality.


Updated Nutrient Inventory for the Mississippi River Industrial Corridor

In 2014, Water Synergy Project participants sponsored an update of the 2000 Mississippi River Industrial Corridor (MRIC) in Louisiana. Without this sponsorship there was no funding for an update of this 15-year old document, and the information was important to understanding current conditions and MRIC contributions to the Gulf of Mexico hypoxia zone.

The update reconfirmed that industry point sources in Louisiana contribute a very small fraction of total nutrients in the Mississippi River. Also, the update reports that nitrogen discharges from Louisiana sanitary wastewater treatment facilities are approximately 3 times the amount of nitrogen discharges from industrial point sources.

  • The 2000 inventory data was used in the Louisiana State Nutrient Management Strategy. The updated inventory will be useful to state and federal agencies to confirm that point source nutrient discharges are still low, despite significant industrial growth in the region in the last 15 years.
  • Recommendations to improve the robustness of the data set for future inventories have been defined and action plans have been proposed to address those changes.

Restore the Earth Foundation Strategic Alliance

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What

The US BCSD and Restore the Earth Foundation have formed a Strategic Alliance for landscape-scale restoration and a $1 million Collaborative Fund. The funds will be used to restore 1,000 acres at Pointe-aux-Chenes Wildlife Management Area, Louisiana, the largest land area that provides the last line of defense protecting more than 250,000 people, including the United Houma Nation and Pointe-au-Chien Indian Tribe, from the threat of storms and land loss. The region is home to threatened and endangered species, commercial and recreational fisheries, and a rich diversity of wildlife and birds.

How

By contributing to the Collaborative Fund, corporate partners will be able to demonstrate and report on the value their investment creates. Restore the Earth’s EcoMetrics™ Model quantifies the full financial value of the restoration’s environmental, social, and economic impacts, aligned with the International Integrated Reporting Council (IIRC)’s Framework. Their model proves that for every $1 invested in restoration, more than $9 in value is created. Corporate partners also benefit from third-party-verified carbon, nitrogen, water, and phosphorus offsets.

The US BCSD's Louisiana Water Synergy Project, described above, will serve as the platform for this joint work.

If you are interested in learning more about the US BCSD/Restore the Earth Collaborative Fund or Restore the Earth’s EcoMetrics Model, accounting for the value of landscape-scale restoration, contact:

Who

Restore the Earth Foundation, Inc. is 501(c)(3) not for profit, its mission is to restore the Earth’s essential forest and wetland ecosystems, delivering outstanding environmental, social and economic returns. Restore the Earth has secured over $35 million from private and public sources and has successfully restored over 45,000 acres along America’s Gulf Coast. Today, these reforested areas have restored habitat, created jobs, and brought back the landscape’s green attributes and benefits that contribute so much to the nation’s communities and culture. To learn more, please visit www.restoretheearth.org.

The Water Institute of the Gulf Strategic Alliance

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About The Water Institute of the Gulf

The Water Institute of the Gulf is a not-for-profit, independent research institute dedicated to advancing the understanding of coastal, deltaic, river and water resource systems, both within the Gulf Coast and around the world. This mission supports the practical application of innovative science and engineering, providing solutions that benefit society. For more information, visit www.thewaterinstitute.org.

Alliance Overview

The Water Institute of the Gulf and the US BCSD, two groups that have separately tackled a number of issues involving the protective role played by the region’s eroding wetlands and the importance of Louisiana’s water resources, are now joining forces to collaborate on applied research aimed at finding solutions to water challenges in the region and around the world. 

"We're extremely excited to add the US BCSD to our strong network of partners,” said Chip Groat, Ph.D., president and CEO of The Water Institute. “The council’s relationships with the private sector will add valuable capacity to efforts to meet challenges and develop solutions across the Gulf Coast, the nation and beyond.” 

“This collaboration will provide valuable technical expertise to project participants as they tackle water challenges that are key to their businesses and communities,” said Andrew Mangan, executive director of the US BCSD. “Together, our two organizations will seek ways to convert water challenges to economic opportunities in ways that benefit people, ecosystems and businesses.

Gulf Coast Industrial Infrastructure Task Force

Our two organizations have started work to build a Gulf Coast Industrial Infrastructure Task Force that will bring companies together with other investors to share the costs of projects to restore, protect, and modernize infrastructure to withstand risks and assure the economic, social, and ecological value of these assets to meet the needs of current and future generations.  

The Task Force will start with projects in Louisiana because business assets and infrastructure in southern Louisiana are not only critical to economy of the state, but also to the overall US economy. In addition, in Louisiana the Task Force will directly benefit from the collaborative business relationships already established in US BCSD’s Louisiana Water Synergy Project as well as the data, models, and expertise available through the Water Institute projects to implement the Louisiana Comprehensive Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast.