Business leaders and entrepreneurs have an opportunity to embrace the emerging sanitation economy in the country for fueling sustainable growth
Sanitation has seldom been a part of management strategy in global businesses, and its cross-sector business role is not fully comprehended. But the fact is that sanitation can emerge as one of the most significant business opportunities of the 21st century.
The sanitation economy has the potential to power the global growth engine by meeting one of the profound challenges of the century – attaining universal access to enhanced safely-managed sanitation, the Sustainable Development Goal 6 (SDG6). SDG6 is one of 17 Sustainable Development Goals established by the UN General Assembly in 2015. It calls for clean water and sanitation for all people.
“By accelerating the sanitation economy, we can create a robust marketplace of the new market opportunity that has been virtually untapped. We can do this while improving lives of the 2.3 billion currently without toilets, and ensuring the capture, safe treatment and use of 3.8 trillion litres (500 lpp/a x 7.6 billion global population 2017) of toilet resources currently lost and untreated; and by leveraging smart technologies to drive efficiency in sanitation systems, while capturing extensive amounts of data to inform business, policy, and health decision making,” Charlie Beevor, global VP for household cleaning brands at Unilever and outgoing chairman of the Toilet Board Coalition (TBC), has said. TBC is a business-led partnership and platform that aims to address the global sanitation crisis by accelerating the sanitation economy. It connects large and small companies and works towards collaboration between private, public and non-profit sectors with the common goal to achieve SDG6. The Geneva-based non-profit runs the Toilet Accelerator, the world’s first accelerator programme dedicated to sanitation entrepreneurs in low-income markets.
Beevor has observed that the sanitation economy provides new ways of looking at sanitation systems. It can be seen as a solution provider for governments and sectors confronting constraints on essential resources such as water, energy, nutrients, and proteins. The sanitation economy can be a reservoir of information about human health and behaviour, besides as a testbed for innovation and new technologies that reinvent the toilet and its ecosystems. “It leverages new business models and disruptive technologies together with established technologies and businesses with scale to transform sanitation systems. The economic case for the sanitation economy is clear; evidence of existing business models, demand, and momentum is building,” she says.
According to TBC, the sanitation economy monetises toilet provision, products and services, biological resources, data and information to provide benefits across the economy and society. It is estimated to be a $62 billion market annually in India alone by 2021. Here’s how sanitation economy links three distinct areas for business and societal benefits.
It includes toilets and the systems for maintaining them, for all contexts and incomes, together with a range of related products and services. The toilet collects resources that can be reused within the circular sanitation economy and acts as an interface to capture data about the user as part of the smart sanitation economy. Data from toilets informs the users, operators, and other businesses, helping in improving the user experience and operating efficiency, and widening the range of potential services.
Circular Sanitation Economy
It connects the biological cycle, recovering nutrients, and water and toilet resources creating value-adding products such as renewable energy, organic fertilisers, proteins, and more, and catering for multiple forms of biological waste. With the addition of digital technology, not only can sewage treatment plants (STPs) increase their operational efficiency and yields of usable products, but also efficiently access markets for these products. Resource flow monitoring can provide valuable inputs to design re-use strategies, which will help in cost recovery of sanitation infrastructure and building new revenue streams.
Smart Sanitation Economy
Preventive healthcare leverages new trends in healthcare, for example, in genomics, based on digital technologies. The sanitation system, as a source of data, becomes an early warning system for health, generating value through more efficient and effective health services. Early use cases are focused on efficiencies in healthcare delivery and more precise and tailored medications. Sensors applied directly into toilet resources via the toilet, sewage system or treatment plant enable the monitoring of basic health indicators, biomarkers and infectious disease surveillance. Environmental sensors deployed outside or around the toilet allow the monitoring of environmental conditions such as moisture, heat, or vector activity that can also be linked to health indicators.
Beevor argues that businesses can capture significant benefits by accelerating the sanitation economy. “Firstly, access to the growing emerging market customer base (2.3 billion people without access to basic sanitation; 61% of the population without improved sanitation, including waste mismanagement). Secondly, competitive advantage and innovation, creating smart, sustainable sanitation systems for the future. Thirdly, contribution to sustainability targets – addressing resource loss and efficiencies, climate change, and zero waste policies. Fourthly, reducing costs and accessing new resources through the circular sanitation economy – valuing sanitation waste as ‘toilet resource’ and generating new revenue from valuable products derived from toilet resources such as energy and fuel, nutrients, proteins, water, information and more. Fifthly, access to new data and information for operational decision-making and potentially new market opportunities by leveraging the mobile, digital, big data and smart megatrends for sanitation.”
To realise these benefits, she says that strong and visionary business leadership is needed to disrupt current sanitation lock-ins and to lead the way through the transition phase with policymakers simultaneously setting the direction and creating the right enabling conditions. “Other organisations can play important roles, including facilitating and participating in collaborative initiatives to unlock the business opportunity of the decade.”
And to be able to take off the programme, TBC has announced the formation of its India chapter, Toilet Board Coalition India Association, on the occasion of World Toilet Day 2019. Priyanka Tanwar, head of public affairs at Lixil Asia Pacific, has been appointed as a steering committee member and director at the board of the India chapter.
“Our corporate responsibility initiatives are focussed on our three strategic pillars that cover global issues requiring urgent action and are closely linked to our field of business. Aligned with the United Nation’s Sustainability Goals, these pillars are global sanitation and hygiene, water conservation and environmental sustainability, and diversity and inclusion. We take our commitment seriously to address these matters that require urgent action to make a positive impact in the communities in which we operate,” Tanwar asserts.Besides, TBC has recently appointed Erin McCusker, chief strategy officer of Sato, Lixil as chairperson for global operations. McCusker will be responsible for showcasing the vast potential of the sanitation economy for global economic growth and achieving universal access to improved safely-managed sanitation.
“I am eager to build on the tremendous work of the past chairs and the momentum in the sector by showcasing the value of the sanitation economy and the role of all actors through our projects, growing accelerator cohort, and the Global Sanitation Economy Summit,” she says.