World Water Day: One Water’s impact on five million lives

Posted: 22 March 2024 | | No comments yet

This World Water Day, Duncan Goose reflects on ‘Leveraging Water for Peace’ amid global challenges and explores the journey of One Water which has impacted five million lives through purpose-driven initiatives.

world water day

By Duncan Goose – Founder, One Water & The One Foundation

In December 1992, the United Nations General Assembly adopted resolution A/RES/47/193, after which time 22 March was declared World Water Day. Every year has a theme, to highlight a specific issue related to water challenges around the world.

This year’s theme is ‘Leveraging Water for Peace’. I wonder what springs to mind when you read those words. For me personally, this week I sat with a paper on my desk asking us to fund a critical set of water projects in Gaza. The need there, is chronic.

Over the last 20 years we’ve seen some pretty desperate situations around the world. I have been witness to people walking 20 kilometres to seek out a water source, for people to die along the way, only to find the water sources contaminated and risk getting cholera.

In January of this year, the House of Commons declared that The Horn of Africa is experiencing its longest drought in 40 years. Compounded by high food prices and political instability, this has led to 36.4 million people suffering from hunger across the region, and 21.7 million requiring food assistance.

Google the words ‘Flood List’ and you’ll get a global span of the current impacts of Climate Change – from here in the UK to flooding in France, to Malawi and Sumatra. Despite always focussing on longer term projects, it’s like we’re running triage sometimes. There is either too little water, too much, or it’s unclean. And it’s not getting any easier.

From my first experience of being caught in the middle of a Category 5 hurricane which killed over 10,000 people and did over $6 billion of damage, removing infrastructure, food and water supplies and being sat under Chinooks as they flew in aid, I knew I wanted to do something to help others.

And that led to the creation of the bottled water brand, One. So called because, when I started it, there were one billion people in the world without access to clean water and whilst it would be impossible to change that many lives, we thought that if we could change one person’s life, one day at a time, that would be a good definition of success.

And so it became. Slowly at first, but as more distribution for One was secured, the more money we were able to donate to fund clean water projects, and the more lives we started to change.

And today, with partners like the Co-Op, World Duty Free, Starbucks, Holland & Barrett, we’ve now helped to change the lives of five million people.

Five million people who, hopefully, live more stable, more peaceful, more beneficial lives because they are not having to walk hours to collect water or risk becoming ill from water-borne diseases like cholera. For many communities, they now have piped water networks which seems like something of a technology jump having been previously faced with collecting water from rivers or open water sources.

But, for me, it wasn’t just about creating a brand which helped to provide clean water, it was about creating a brand and a business which stood for something. When I started One, the ‘purpose’ movement was really in its infancy and CSR was a word that people used, but weren’t sure what it was. Today, it’s ‘SBTi’s, net zero, carbon neutral, cradle to cradle’ that are probably the latest incarnation of ‘what’s coming at you’ to make people listen a little harder to conversations.

So we quietly set out to make changes. Using recycled plastics in our bottles long before it became the norm and sucking up the price premium for doing so; becoming carbon neutral to scope three before people started banging that drum loudly; becoming a signatory to the UN Global Compact; and becoming one of the first, and a founding B Corporation in the UK. No one really had a clue what it was at the time, but some passionate people convinced other passionate people to start a new movement and now it’s going from strength to strength. 

Like all of these things, it’s sometimes not a compliance/regulatory/marketing advantage decision, but a personal choice of what leaders decide to do with their organisations. What they decide to encourage their teams to explore, to challenge and debate – and we’ve had a lot of debates.

We have a range of products that includes 100 percent recycled PET plastic bottles, cans made from 51 percent recycled aluminium, Tetra Pak cartons, glass bottles made from 50 percent recycled glass and a pre-filled and refillable, 100 percent recyclable aluminium bottle.  Each has its role to play in the category and each has its pros and cons – and having spoken at sustainability conferences, rarely can anyone tell me which is the best solution or why.  But we have our own views and are happy to share them.

So this World Water Day, whether you’ve ever bought One water, or been a partner of ours, I want to say thank you to all those people who have made a difference to the lives of five million people, helping them get access to one of life’s most fundamental needs. Water. Their lives have been made better because of you.

And if you debate in your own business how you can leverage what you do for peace, a better world, climate change, humanity, or just to change a life, I would say this – just start. Who knows, in a few years you might have found it’s changed the lives of millions.


About the author

Duncan GooseDuncan Goose is the Founder of One Water & The One Foundation. He is a marketing executive who returned from a two-year motorcycle adventure around the world, started One Water with the aim of raise enough funds to change one person’s life. Almost 20 years on donations from the sale of One Water have helped The One Foundation fund crucial programmes in the most water-stressed areas of the world, focusing on Rwanda, Ghana, Kenya and Malawi.

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