Interview with Tiffany Atwell, Water Europe Board Member of College A ‘Multinational Corporations’
You recently joined the Water Europe (WE) board on behalf of membership college A ‘Multinational Corporations’– Could you tell us what drives you personally to have this role at Water Europe? What do you want to achieve?
Becoming a WE board member was important for multiple reasons. I joined Ecolab 19 months ago because I was inspired by Ecolab’s mission. As a global leader in water, health and hygiene and infection prevention solutions and services are all critical globally but one company can not do this work alone and truly make the necessary impact to society. Realizing that meeting many of these challenges can only be done through collaboration with Ecolab customers and other critical third party stakeholders made working through Water Europe even more important.
I realized through talking to key leaders in Europe that WE was the right partner to work with on many of these critical issues. Now that I am on the Board I can see for myself the critical role WE plays. Furthermore, I do think that to be able to make a difference on these types of issues, you need diverse coalitions. Seeing Water Europe playing this role in society, I thought it was exciting and wanted to be part of. After my first board meeting, it was even more evident to me the importance that WE can play not just in Europe but in setting up the agenda and educating even beyond Europe. This is why I wanted to be part of these education efforts and the work that WE is doing but also trying to be strategic and helping Water Europe to accomplish its goals.
Representing the corporations’ side, which ones do you consider the key challenges and the most burning needs of your college and how will you contribute to addressing these in the context of Water Europe?
One of the main challenges corporations have is to focus, because for example what we have right now in Europe where the focus is on the EU Green Deal is an opportunity but it can also be a challenge as this is such a vast topic. I will tap into Ecolab’s expertise to ensure Water Europe is able to shape and benefit from many of the guidelines being produced through the EU green deal.
Having a multinational corporation working through Water Europe is an opportunity but can also be a challenge. There is so much information that is coming at us all at once and sometimes when you have such diverse interest, it can be hard to focus and what you really have to do to be successful is exactly that, prioritise and focus. While we are trying to be part of a universe that is coming together, sometimes this can dilute our ability to be impactful and we don’t have a lot of time. Water is an area that hasn’t really received that much attention in the past and we will have ramifications if we don’t address water now, so this means that we need to be disciplined and define those priorities, build the strategy and execute it in a way that will make us successful on the advocacy front. The focused approach is important, so that we avoid running after every opportunity and for this, we need a strong leadership and I feel we have the right leadership at WE to be able to do that. These are the things that will help us be successful even though it is a challenging time, filled with opportunities. My main point here is that it takes a level of discipline and focus which sometimes can be difficult when you have large organisations with diverse interests but this is something that can be done if we take the time to actually to find what our priorities are and then set out the strategy and plan in advance in a disciplined way.
How important is it for multinational corporations to be involved in European affairs and have a platform for networking with other progressive and innovative water actors?
It’s really important for us to be involved because we have expertise to share and we are part of the solution, and I think the networking is helping us to see what other players are doing and identify opportunities. The only way to be successful is to work together. The networking is great but it has to be networking with a purpose because there is limited time and just having people in a room is not enough. If we had more time in our hands we could do it in a grass-roots way but I don’t think we have that. I do believe that a thematic, strategic and focused networking where we can share our opportunities, lessons learnt and best practices in an organised way, even if there are not formalised, can be a really helpful process. Learning goes both ways and multinational corporations can share their global expertise but they can also learn from the EU government officials what they try to achieve and be supportive to them. So, the only way to go ahead is to have an established dialogue that goes back and forth.
A water-smart society is a society where the true value of water is recognised and realised. Based on your experience, which are the obstacles we need to overcome and which actions shall we prioritise to make this happen?
We need to continue to educate, but we also need to create echo chambers and build alliances with people beyond the water sector. We have a diverse group of members in our coalition and it should be part of our mandate to send us all out to be ambassadors for Water Europe and educate others on what we are trying to achieve. Beyond that, we need to expand and have “Water Europe friends’’, people who are not directly involved in the day to day education and advocacy efforts but can function as an echo chamber so that even people beyond WE start to understand the role of water in their goals and objectives they try to achieve. Talking just to the converted ones is not the way to be successful. It is easy to think that we should just go and talk to people who are responsible for the water agenda and policies but I think we need to get out of our comfort zone and talk to people who may not even care about water. Sometimes, it can be an uncomfortable situation but we need to be willing to engage in some of those arenas to create more support out of the universe we are currently operating and create a network beyond WE, with more people educated about water and willing to be champions for our mandates.