Lord Mayor’s Coffee Colloquies

UN Sustainable Development Goal 6:
Sanitation and Clean Water
Ensure access to water and sanitation for all

16 January 2024


As part of the Lord Mayor’s Coffee Colloquy series, the Lord Mayor of the City of London, Alderman Professor Michael Mainelli, convenes leading experts from across scientific, academic and business communities for a thoughtful discussion at the Mansion House to demonstrate the City’s strengths and leadership in helping to solve global challenges and issues, including the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

On 16 January, the Colloquy focused on SDG6: ‘availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all’.  The event was organised by the Worshipful Company of Water Conservators with the Worshipful Company of Plumbers.

Alderman Alastair King, DL provided opening remarks, highlighting the role of the Livery in the life of the City.  Ten speakers then shared their experience on the importance of UN SDG6 – Water and Sanitation – both in the UK and worldwide.


Speaker Summaries:

  1. Professor Martin Bigg, Master, Worshipful Company of Water Conservators

In his introduction, he observed that Livery Companies vary but they all support their professions, standards, education, skills, and charities. They are working for long term sustainability, working for the wider interests of society.  There has been a lack of investment in the infrastructure and skills necessary to provide clean water and sanitation.  He believed that it is beholden on Livery Companies, through their education programmes and through their charitable giving, to support and nurture the skills necessary—both nationally and globally—to tackle the sustainability challenges, including climate change.  He encouraged everyone to share ideas, build partnerships, drive innovation, and take action to provide sanitation and clean water for all.



  1. Dinah Nichols, CB, Former DG Environment Defra; Water Conservators

The UN Sustainable Development Goal 6 undertakes “to provide safely managed water and sanitation for all by 2030”.  In 2023, a UN Water Summit of 10,000 representatives from all sectors of society took stock of their progress.  Their stark conclusion was that at the mid-point to 2030, progress was dangerously off-track and that billions of people would still lack access to safe water, sanitation and basic hygiene by 2030 unless there was a six-fold increase in the pace of change.

The technical and scientific solutions are well known and readily available, but political and institutional hurdles need to be overcome.  She encouraged everyone to promote water and sanitation literacy to attract and train a skilled workforce, in particular woman.  The UK has abundant expertise and experience in all these areas.  The UN blueprint should be the UK basis to ensure the basic human right of clean water and sanitation for everyone.



  1. Alex Money, Watermarq; Water Conservators

Water is fundamentally undervalued in most places in the world, partly because of a reliance on financial return as the arbiter of water value.  Financial return underestimates the value of water because a) water prices are policy-driven rather than market-driven, and b) financial returns don’t capture the economic, social and environmental return externalities that improved water security generates.  He argued that the status quo on how water is valued needs to be broken, to reduce in order to mobilise collective action.  Public sector financing is necessary but insufficient, and that contextual assessment of water value – supported by technological innovations in remote sensing, computer vision, and machine learning – is key to engaging the private sector and financial institutions.  The City of London in particular, and the UK more generally, possesses an immense reservoir of knowledge and applied experience that can be successfully exported to help build the capacity needed to improve water security and meet SDG 6.  The Livery companies are integral to delivering this ambition.



  1. Gemma Harvey, Professor of Physical Geography at Queen Mary University of London; Bailiff, Water Conservators

Nature-based solutions are a vital tool in responding to the interconnected planetary crises of biodiversity loss, pollution, and climate change.  For cities, the development of best practice in nature recovery requires co-creation of research in partnership with diverse organisations and local communities.  This helps to bring diverse perspectives to complex global challenges.  She also spoke about the role of postgraduate education as a gateway and accelerator for careers in the water and environment sector.  Yet many students cannot afford to study or find themselves juggling a master’s degree with substantial paid work commitments.  Bursaries are critical to widening participation and supporting the next generation of change-makers in the water and environment sector.



  1. Sarah Mukherjee MBE, Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment (IEMA)

It might feel as if we are falling behind in terms of international climate change leadership.  However, the infrastructure that sits within the UK as a result of the world’s first commitment to legally binding GHG reduction, through the Climate Change Act, means that we are further ahead than many other countries in terms of delivering a net zero economy (e.g. Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) requirements).

This is a business opportunity for the UK—The IEMA are already seeing companies that are setting up centres of excellence in the UK to train colleagues around the world on how to deliver net-zero organisations.  Often net-zero delivery is seen as an elite occupation, but it’s also an opportunity to re- and up-skill diverse and minority communities—particularly people in white, working-class communities. For example, we need 20,000 electricians to deliver EV charging points by 2030/2035.



  1. Steve Kaye, CEO UK Water Industry Research (UKWIR)

He highlighted the need for aspirational goals to drive research and innovation in the UK and ultimately overseas.  The Water Innovation strategy has become a North Star for the water sector, in terms of aligning innovators and the supply chain with the priorities of the water industry.  The high-level strategy goals are based on seven of the SDGs.

There are some great examples emerging to meet the water sector challenges, including reducing greenhouse gas emissions from wastewater treatment, creating electricity from sewage sludge, and the development of cheap reliable sensors to help build an internet of things to help operate and understand the water cycle from a real time perspective.

UKWIR and Spring help the industry take a more collaborative approach which helps suppliers, innovators and ultimately the water companies provide a better service to customers, improve the environment, and build a foundation for business in the UK and overseas.



  1. Paul Horton, Future Water Association

According to the global water security 2023 assessment published by the United Nations, three out of four people are currently living in water insecure countries. SDG6 can only be achieved through more radical thinking driving new ideas/innovations across the sector.  The next generation of people is crucial to more radical thinking.

Data is another critical element of progress, including data on water availability, scarcity, transboundary resources, pollution, behaviour, and infrastructure. He also aldvocated for innovation in data collection and assessment methods, including through the use of AI which could be of significant help, potentially at low cost.  Proper data systems still underpin innovation.  SDG6 cannot be achieved in isolation – a systems view linking all SDGs is essential. At a minimum, SDG6 and SDG9 (which focuses on industry, innovation and infrastructure) must be brought together in terms of action programmes.



  1. Jeremy Galpin, Costain Group PLC

Current business case methodologies do not sufficiently value water and its benefits to society, which can lead to conventional investment decisions with sub-optimal long-term value to society.  Costain are leading a project with the UK Water Partnership called ‘the public value of water’ which explores best practice in wellbeing methodology and how that can enable a better understanding of the whole life value of water.  The project builds on work Costain has done using the Government’s Green Book Wellbeing methodology to measure the wellbeing impact of cleaner rivers and seas and to monetise that impact.  Improving our understanding of the value of water will help drive the investment needed to address the UNSDGs, including SDG6.  He would welcome further contributors to the working group to share best practice, and develop bids for research funding that will allow this work to be expanded.

Contact jeremy.galpin@costain.com


  1. Dr Susanne Surman-Lee, Plumbers

She highlighted the public health consequences of unsafe water provision and sanitation, noting that these conditions are not limited to developing countries but also to developed countries, especially in the light of recent flash flooding events because of climate change.  Such events not only overwhelm wastewater infrastructures, but floodwater contamination of farmland also increases the risk of food spoilage, as well as foodborne and waterborne illness.  She discussed the consequences of global warming on the public health risks associated with water systems in buildings, as the temperatures of water entering buildings rise, warmer water increases the risk of opportunistic waterborne pathogens such as Legionella entering water systems in an active growth phase and with increased virulence.  This poses a significant threat of serious illness and death, especially to susceptible groups in healthcare and care for the elderly premises, which needs to be considered when designing new facilities.

She also raised the health and gender inequalities associated with the need for safe and adequate sanitation facilities for menstruating young women and girls, which is of particular importance in developing countries.  Women and girls are at increased risk from attack and serious urinary tract and vaginal infections as they delay relieving themselves until dark. Providing all a family’s water needs also falls predominantly on women and girls, so girls more than boys are likely to be illiterate, adversely affecting their long-term ability to provide for their families.  Available water sources are often not safe, with incidents of drowning reported, particularly for children collecting water.  She concluded by stating that addressing SDG6 aims needs a holistic and risk-assessed approach to ensuring the wider public health implications are considered.



  1. Martin Shouler, Arup; Plumbers

He provided a focus on the importance of water in the urban context and how cities can ensure water security and resilience for all.  He shared his experience working across Africa building water resilience using the City Water Resilience Approach (CWRA) – a methodology which looks at the underlying issues to achieving water resilience, governance and a lack of collaboration and coordination.  He reflected that the majority of the impacts of climate change are, and will be, felt through water.  He reflected that it is clear that there is a huge pool of talent in the City and across the UK which can help solve some of the most pressing water challenges for communities across the globe, including some of the most vulnerable.  This would require a multidisciplinary approach to meeting SDG6 including scientific, planning, engineering, financial, communication and legal skills.




Audience Question & Answer Summary

Chair of Q&A
Hans Jensen, the UK Water Partnership

After the speaker presentations concluded, the Q&A began. Hans Jensen directed to each of the speakers one question from the audience, with their answers summarised below.

Question 1 to Dinah Nichols
• How do we pick up the pace, get the best out of government and influence the relationship?
In developing and non-developing countries the issue is the lack of institutional capacity. No data, lack of political priority (wars, famine). The UK can help we have the intellectual capacity, data, governance, knowledge and how to transfer it not just overseas but to ourselves. Look at the current state of the water sector!

Question 2 Alex Money Watermaq
• Role of private companies in better understanding the different between cost and value, and how to get the best return on investment in the water community.
Most of my work to date is in the UK. However, there is a growing awareness amongst all businesses that the current state of the water sector is not sustainable, and a growing expectation that water must be valued differently. There are also concerns about social licensing. So what needs to be done?  Following on from the previous speaker, it is to use differently the knowledge we know exists, understanding better the data gaps , and get water valued.

Question 3 Sarah Mukherjee IEMA
• How do we translate thought leadership and creative thinking into practical measures- making things happen.
At IEMA our most popular webinar is looking at the role of storytelling not just the bottom line of the spreadsheet. The Royal Opera House as a customer gets it. To get our story across let us keep the message simple. Stick to one thing, keep repeating it 9-10 times to get it across, with clarity, simplicity and humility. Finally be more open to feedback as clearly the current approach is not working.

Question 4 Paul Horton Future Water Association
• Enthusing and getting interest from young people and in particular those from minority communities etc in the water sector – how?
I wish I had a silver bullet answer. Chatting recently with a charted accountant I asked why there is not a soap on TV on water, after all every other subject gets air time. Water is almost a hidden sector. Look at Greta Thunberg, rather than knocking her, let us applaud a young person who’s prepared to stand up about what they feel needs to be done. Young people think differently and our challenge now is how to invite them into our space and harness their thoughts for our future delivery and outcomes.

Question 5 Jemma Harvey Queen Mary University
• Lots of questions about research and then getting the best from the research results.
It’s good to see the UK funding model moving away from its linear approach of shared learning, academics undertaking research and then sharing it with others. That is an outdated approach. We moved to teams working together, being more open to a 2-way conversation. Recently the university ran an exhibition on rewilding in cities with research by local communities and photography by local people, it proved to be an outstanding success. Also run a range of workshops with a wide range of stakeholders where to our surprise they was lots of consensus. So it’s being open to widening the conversation, and not being top down. We will soon to start a knowledge exchange, which will do exactly the above.

Question 6 Steve Kaye UKWIR
• Getting the best value out of research not just in the water sector but extending the practice and theories to other parts where people might be interested in the water sector as a whole.
The trick is to align the research or innovation with goals that mean something to people. Might be reducing carbon emissions, reducing leakage to zero, reduce the discharges that harm our rivers. It drives science, so we can come up with new processes, digital solutions. It engages academics, but on the other hand, achieving these goals means something to the community. As was mentioned we are still an invisible service.  We need to talk much more about the industry, we are still getting battered from all angles and there are loads of positive good news stories that would resonate with people , generating electricity, change behaviour, getting people to be more aware of what they flush down the toilet . So finally, it’s satisfying the academic challenge but improving communication at the same time.

Question 7 Jeremy Galpin Costain
• This is a fantastic project which I’m delighted to be helping to sponsor! . However how do we get it up the agenda. Everyone knows it’s important, but it’s always someone else’s issue ? How to measure and get the best out of wellbeing, so people really feel a difference.
We need to get more innovation funding to invest on a long term basis and better how to capture wellbeing using this methodology. Once you convert wellbeing into a money factor you can then choose the options for a nature-based solution which best provides long-term societal wellbeing. The dream is we have digital twins for water catchment in which we are capturing the wellbeing impact on the people who live in that catchment. So we can see what impact we are having on society as well as improving water quality.

Question 8 Susanne Sulman -Lee Plumbers
• Addressing both water scarcity and flooding at the same time in different places how do we help communities to think about both issues at the same time and draw it together.
I think education is really important. I do not think there’s an enough emphasis on teaching people from an early age the importance of water, it’s precious. Mention has been made about training people about what they put down their toilet. Making water education a key part at school. My 2 year old daughter would sing happy birthday whilst washing her hands. If we could get simple messages like that over that would provide the basis of better understanding of the importance of water.

Question 9 Martin Shouler Plumbers
• If I turn to the word sustainability how do we match this up to GDP and productivity.
That’s a tough question. If we think about sustainability let’s think about the economics and environmental, think of it as a balanced score card. If we are going to push economic activity ahead of sustainably, then we need to look for the win-win, triple bottom line. For consumers it’s can I get a washer for my pump, can I maintain it. Need to think longevity, what we now have is a new language, think about carbon impact. We’ve talked about nature based solutions, which provides a double win, reducing carbon emissions and leading to adaptation. We need to be thinking not just about pipes but in future in a holistic way.

Final Comments — Martin Bigg Water Conservators
We are facing lots of questions today, but the key one is how do we make a difference? What are we going to do, rather than focusing on, say there is a need for investment? So listening to the panel, my key question to each of the panel, as a Livery company, how can we be seen to make a difference? What are we now going to do?


  • Dinah: Expose the interconnectivities between policy and social / economic activities
  • Alex: I’ll come at it from the finance side. The value of water needs to be higher on the economic and societal ladder. What we need to do is to construct the narrative that forms the investment case, and then supports the decision-making.
  • Sarah: Find 3 things that everyone in this space agrees with, because we all need an elevator pitch. As every time we have an interaction with someone, the same 3 things needs to be said, and keep saying it. That’s how it’s achieved.
  • Paul: Bring it all together, create the narrative, build a core message. And to drive change and innovation in the sector you need data.
  • Gemma: It’s really hard to make big changes. It can be off putting. However, as people have said, people often have the knowledge and we need to find ways to capitalize on that. So just because it’s difficult, we need to stay focused on transforming things.
  • Steve: To make a difference and deliver everything that’s been said we need to acknowledge it’s a complex industry. It needs collaboration, bringing together all the stakeholders, industry, city planners. We need a way of coming together to be effective.
  • Jeremy: If the 2 livery companies could support a bid for innovation funding for wellbeing research, supported by any others in the room. This would be an excellent way forward.
  • Susanne: Have the right people at the table and put together a multi-disciplinary team so we can cover all the nuances to deliver sanitation and clean water for everyone.
  • Martin: My reflections are (1) water is complex so let’s not underestimate this, and (2) water is a life support system but it’s also a hazard. As it’s been stated, it requires a multi-disciplinary approach. So these gatherings provide a great opportunity for collaboration. I live in an engineering world and everyone else lives in their own world. The more we can do to break out of those silos and bring that cross thinking in a healthy way. Leave our baggage at the door and come in with humble honestly to answer these questions and acknowledge the challenges that exist, get alignment if we are to deliver this agenda. Partnership is critical but difficult. So we need a conveyor, and if we get the narrative right. The SDGs are important, but they probably need to be made more relevant for this conversation. The partnership this needs alignment and common purpose. We then need after today’s event a commitment to doing it together. That’s why I was so excited coming here today as there are not many such as the Lord Mayor and the City who can convene the breath of interest in this room today. So the Livery movement is relevant, it can convene, but it can’t do it on its own, it needs the support of others.



Water and Sanitation – All Audience Questions

  1. How can we leverage this excellent event to make a real difference to achieving SDGs?
  2. How can we ensure women and children are centred in the international conversation about water and sanitation?
  3. What is the role of private investment in solving the described problems in the UK and beyond?
  4. A “City” question: if panellists could only focus on one area to contribute to SDG6, what do they think would get the best return on investment?
  5. Does the fact that company CEOs are incentivised by short-term financial performance impede water sustainability? How can this be addressed?
  6. How do we galvanise and sustain international attention and support on clean water and sanitation issues?
  7. How can we practically strengthen data monitoring systems?
  8. How do we better include marginalised communities, youth, etc., particularly given they’re often on the front lines of the crisis?
  9. Does the need for a postgraduate degree to engage in sustainability efforts contribute to the elitism issues referenced before? Can this be changed/better supported?
  10. What are the complexities around defining social value impact in the finance sector? Is there a need for standardisation across the industry for high impact?
  11. Many of the speakers have emphasised the need for inter-disciplinary working. How do they think this can be better supported and how do you identify the people?
  12. What is the safest way for water sanitation?
  13. Bhutan has a wellbeing metric as a measure of government success. Should we be pushing for that in the UK?
  14. Potable water is still cheap per cube but is it possible to value water per cube based on water stress and flooding to understand the real cost of water?
  15. We have recently had serious flooding in the lower Thames above Teddington. What are we doing in the UK to counter sewage contamination in flood situations?
  16. Fergal Sharkey has (arguably) made a difference with respect to making water visible – what have you learnt from him?
  17. How can we support Livery companies in their efforts to combat climate change?
  18. Does private industry have a role in international capacity building or is this only for governments?
  19. How can the UK better market itself as a global leader in sustainability?
  20. How important is convening as an element of the global strategies to combat the impact of climate change?
  21. Does needing to address both flooding and droughts (i.e., both too much and too little water) complicate water conservation efforts?
  22. How are data collected for the IOT?
  23. The health sector and health research seem to be a natural partner for some of this work – how do we get front-facing health workers more involved in this
  24. How old are the sewage systems in the City of London?
  25. how does rainwater gets collected and used?
  26. Would you have a follow-up meeting, after this?
  27. As we implement water reuse, rainwater harvesting and other ways to make buildings more sustainable, should we have a competent plumbers’ programme?
  28. Do you have hubs where all involved are interconnected?
  29. There are many issues that have been talked about for 20 years (plus) – why are we missing the action necessary?
  30. How in practice do UK business and industry provide expert services, skills, machines, technologies to water projects in the global south on a sustained basis?

Convening power is an important component for collaboration.  Could partnerships be improved if mandated?  Do we need catc