Rylan Dobson & Water Stewardship | The Positive Change

We underestimate the power of knowledge sharing. As a society, the majority of us believe we know everything that needs to be known and act based on the knowledge we think we have. This has proven to be detrimental to our world. If we continue to let our ego’s cloud our vision, we will continue making decisions (not necessarily in the form of solutions) for individual gain rather than the collective gain for our planet.

Today’s post features an extremely intellectual professional, Rylan Dobson. The reason we really wanted to interview Rylan is because of his inspiring journey. Additionally, Water Stewardship, when I first met Rylan, was a completely new concept to me until I had the chance to learn more and realize that it’s as big a problem our world faces today similar to plastic pollution, climate change and greenhouse gas emissions.

Meet Rylan and get to know Rylan within this blogpost – Learn about his journey to making positive changes, advice on sustainable entrepreneurship and most importantly, what we can learn about water stewardship and how we can get involved to contribute for the better of our future generations

Rylan Dobson

Tell us about yourself

I grew up in South Africa and did my undergraduate degree in Environmental Science. Prior to leaving South Africa I worked in the mining sector and was focused on using biotechnology processes to improve the quality of water that mines were discharging into the environment. I then moved to the UK and moved away from the water space and got involved in project management within the rail sector (that is a long story!). Years later my wife was transferred to Vancouver for work and during that move I decided to switch back into the water and more specifically the water stewardship space.

I personally see business as both a contributor towards the water-related issues around us but also a power force for change that can positively address water-related issues.

Therefore, I undertook an MBA at SFU here in Vancouver to better understand how a business operates and what drives decision making so that I could more effectively link environmental solutions to business outcomes. It has now been 2 years since I finished my MBA and every day I get to speak with individuals who are passionate about supporting business in making changes in the way they operate. My journey to this point has had its fair twists and turns but ever one has given me a different perspective of how a business operates and that only improve the water stewardship solutions that I can offer my clients.

How important is knowledge sharing to you? Do you feel that people are becoming more mindful to sharing knowledge or are we still battling for competitive advantages and cut-throat profitability?

Extremely important – I see this becoming a vital professional asset that every person should cultivate.

I always recommend setting time aside to engage with your professional community and seek opportunities to share your knowledge with others – especially to those who are just entering the space.

More broadly, the issues that global businesses face are often similar and so it is not uncommon to hear professionals describing that they are facing similar issues in their working environments. The degree to which people share information is also often a function of the sector they operate in but certainly in the water stewardship community there is a very active information sharing culture.

The importance of knowledge sharing

Sustainability is used a lot and it’s becoming a loose term, What does the term sustainability mean to you?

Sustainability to me means that our collective demands on a system (social, environmental or economic) never exceed the basic needs of that system that are required to keep it in a stable state – so for freshwater this would mean that collective use of water by all water users (humans & nature) should never exceeds the renewable water (or more simplistically – rainfall) entering the system. A simpler way to describe the environmental perspective would be that demand should never exceed supply. You are right in that the term sustainability has been coopted by corporate marketing to a degree and it is often used to describe any form of effort to reduce a company’s impact on the world – but often this can never be correlated back to enabling a sustainable state within a system.

I believe the next “trend” in how corporate sustainability performance will be framed will start to ask questions like “what do you need to do” rather what we have now which is “what can we do”.


There is a misconception that, for us to make a change, we must be extremely influential (government, organizations) to make a difference.

This is something I come face-to-face with almost on a daily basis in my work. It is very easy to be overwhelmed by the statistics and facts that we continually hear about the state of the planet and the social, environmental and economic systems that we rely on.

Yes – being influential or having access to an influential platform can accelerate the work that you do but often if the underpinning foundations of that work are poor then this accelerated influence can be equally detrimental to the world.

For me, I seek to influence change by focusing on the quality of my work and this means surrounding yourself with a network (professional or personal) who you can leverage to both create and implement well thought through solutions but who can also proactively challenge your ideas to make them better. So often I see solutions to problems being promoted which do nothing more than move impacts into another social, environmental or economic system. A simple example of this might be the introduction of a new technology that substantially reduces your GHG emissions from your operations but results in a substantial increase in the water that you use. Businesses are starting to become more aware of these inter-system relationships and so are starting to ask deeper questions in this space and so hopefully we will see the bar being raised with respect to a solution space that better accounts for how impacts are transferred as a result of deploying the solution.

To make a change for the better, I constantly hear and learn that authenticity and being genuine is essential. What values do you follow in your personal and professional lives?

I think that the line between professional and personal values are becoming more and more blurred. Interpersonal skills are now often viewed on par with technical skills and more and more businesses are recognizing the value that our individual personalities inject into a work environment. But I do think there is a lot of value in working to articulate a set of values that are true for you that you can actually “see” playing out in your professional and personal life. Whether I am dealing with a client or my son the four values that I seek to embed in my personal and professional life are to deliver consistency, create partnerships, provide flexibility and develop capabilities. Being able translate a set of values into both personal and professional environments is ultimately where your authenticity will flow from.

Can you explain the concept of water stewardship?

The concept of stewardship more broadly means to take care of something that is valuable and often not yours. In the context of water, the practice seeks to go beyond just internal management of water but to broaden how a company views and treats water – as a common pool resource.

Water is more than just a business input or raw material, it has other social, economic and environmental value.

So, adopting a water stewardship approach means acknowledging and embracing a broader and more diverse view of water and acknowledging that many solutions for water challenges require water users to collaborate and combine their resources.

Why is it important for us to address water for future generations?

Many businesses still treat as a global resource (like GHG emissions) and that it can be managed using a one-size-fits-all water strategy. Water is a highly localized resource and its supply is almost always fluctuating.

As a more local example, Canada holds 20% of the worlds freshwater and so it is often assumed that this means that water is not an issue here in Canada – wrong! If you were to remove freshwater that is not readily accessible (as it is locked away in the form of snow and glaciers) that number quickly shrinks to only 7% of the world’s freshwater.

Still a big number for a country with an estimated 0.5% of the global population. But not consider that more than half of that 7% flows north in rivers and that more than 85% of the Canadian population lives in the south of the country. Another example I often here is that 70% of the world surface is covered in water – so why worry. Of that 70%, only 2.5% is freshwater water and of THAT number only 1% is readily accessible (similar reasons to the above). This means that of all the water in the world only 0.007% is accessible and available at any moment for 7.7 billion people!

All that is meant to illustrate is that if we continue to neglect to understand the systems and characteristics of water that sit behind these water numbers, we can quickly talk ourselves into a position where we see water issues as being someone else’s issues. Water is also highly susceptible to changes in climate and this is almost certain to result in water challenges intensifying in the future in almost every place on earth. That said, many businesses that are already facing degrees of water scarcity are already deploying water stewardship tools, such as WWF’s Water Risk Filter, to improve their understanding of the water-related risks they face and are starting to use these insights to change the way they operate.

The importance of future generations

Can you share some success stories regarding water stewardship?

There are many examples of companies that are starting to deploy the Alliance for Water Stewardship Standard at their facilities and having these efforts certified. The success of these examples again is very dependent on the depth to which water stewardship principles are embedded at the facilities but also the degree to which water risks are impacting the facility. However, while there is a lot of guidance in the water stewardship space relating to implementing facility-level deployment there is a bit of a vacuum with respect to how water stewardship is deployed consistently at a corporate strategy level.

Are major consulting firms and other organizations doing enough to help with water stewardship? Or do we still have a long way to go to even raise awareness of this?

There is already a very vibrant and active water stewardship community globally that is comprised of companies, non-profits, public sector agencies and consultancies who are committed to advancing water stewardship. However, while water stewardship has already gained traction with large multinational companies there is still much to be done to get broader uptake from Small Medium Enterprises. That is not to say that no SME’s are implementing stewardship but when you do come across one it is usually the exception rather than the rule.

If we are truly going to make a dent in improving how business uses water, we collectively need to continue to encourage SMEs to internalize the concept.

Many of us out there who want to make a change – what kind of advice do you have with regards to helping our environment and future generations?

Certainly, within a business environment you don’t need to be on a sustainability team to contribute.

I would encourage people to simply be curious and take time to ask more questions about the effects that their decisions might have (positively or negatively) on social, environmental or economic systems.

As another simple example, expanding an existing low cost product into a new market by exporting in the product that is manufactured by an existing supply chain in another country may mean you need to ship more products (larger environmental impacts through greater GHG emissions) while the introduction of the exported product into a local market could impact existing local SME entrepreneurs who already make a similar product and who are not able to compete on the basis of price. This could effectively price them out of the market creating indirect social and economic impacts at a local scale that you would never “see” in your reporting. I am not suggesting that to be sustainable you can’t grow as a business – but we need people who can go that one step further by trying to anticipate and planning for potential social, environmental and economic impacts of their decisions.

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Check out Rylan’s website and what he is doing in the Water Stewardship space to learn more

I truly appreciate Rylan taking the time to conduct this interview for The Positive Change. Reading through this over and over again just goes to show the value in knowledge that we can gain from those around us – it truly feels enlightening and your heart feels lighter when so many of your questions in your mind or the ones you pose to yourself are answered by an expert who is genuinely willing to share information. Rather than perceiving your own answers leading to fake news and negative media!

Would love to hear your thoughts on our recent post!

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