SISS comes at a critical time. Spurred on by Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals, along with changing national realities, many low- and middle-income countries will need to invest heavily in sanitation in the next decade. The decisions they make and the approaches they take today will have far-reaching consequences for sustainability and for the well-being of their citizens.

Sanitation – a catalyst for sustainable development

SISS envisions sanitation as an integral piece of the sustainable development puzzle. The right sanitation systems not only minimize health and environmental risks associated with open defecation and poorly managed waste disposal – they can also, in many cases, yield multiple benefits in areas from health to food security, resilient livelihoods, business growth, energy, and ecosystem services. The Initiative focuses on productive sanitation approaches to address social, environmental, technical, and cultural dimensions of sustainability.


Sustainable sanitation systems become mainstream choices for sanitation development and accessible to all.


To boost sustainable sanitation provision at scale in low- and middle-income countries, through research, knowledge exchange, capacity development, policy dialogue, with a focus on productive sanitation approaches that yield multiple economic, social and environmental co-benefits.


To help policy-makers, practitioners and communities make the best choices, SISS will:

  • build the capacity of sustainable sanitation implementers, planners and practitioners through training, knowledge management and translating knowledge into tailored and user-friendly materials;
  • strengthen the knowledge base through new research and analysis, including elaborating and piloting new implementation models; and
  • offer policy advice and guidance on scaling up sustainable sanitation.


Sustainability as a system issue

In the search for improved and scalable implementation models, the initiative examines not just “hardware” issues but also the wider systems around sanitation, including enabling institutional conditions and governance frameworks, and ways to change users’ perceptions and practices. Work under SISS therefore looks at many aspects of system implementation, not least users’ behaviour and choice as well as work at the policy level in several countries.

The book Sanitation, Wastewater Management and Sustainability examines these different aspects of sustainability in depth. It was produced by SEI and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-based Activities (GPA) and published in August 2016, and aims to be a key text in the transition to more sustainable sanitation and wastewater management. The most comprehensive overview of sustainable sanitation – in principle and practice – available, it presents evidence, arguments and real-life cases examples for the role of sanitation as a catalyst of sustainable development.

In search of implementation models that work

Clean and Green: a new implementation framework for rural sustainable sanitation is the first-of-its-kind framework for implementation of rural sanitation that explicitly addresses efficient local resource management. Many sanitation promotion tools have a narrow focus, but there is a need for tools that include aspects of hygiene, protection of water sources and safe management of waste. Developed at SEI and piloted by WaterAid in Burkina Faso, Clean and Green is a sanitation framework that aims to assist to close the gap on universal WASH coverage, as well as safe management and reuse of resources in sanitation waste or other relevant waste streams, such as animal manure and crop residues. This framework will comprise a series of progressive ‘clean’ (health risk management) and ‘green’ (reuse activities) steps, using participatory assessment approaches to determine locally relevant steps in rural environments. The development of Clean and Green builds on research by SISS, that examined the drivers of sustainability of ecological sanitation projects to see if and how these systems are still being used, and identify keys to success (or failure). The development of Clean and Green implementation tools builds on research to develop participatory diagnostic tools to assess a broad range of health risks and waste flows. Together this evidence will inform the design of new community-level interventions models that we will start to pilot in 2019.

Resource Value Mapping (REVAMP): A tool for evaluating the resource recovery potential of urban waste streams. Another exciting line of work in SISS is development of REVAMP (for Resource Value Mapping). REVAMP is a new tool for city planners, entrepreneurs, investors and other users, designed to calculate what reuse products they could make from the excreta, wastewater and other organic waste generated in their city – and how much the products might be worth. By 2018 we hope to have developed the tool into an easy-to-use, accurate online platform that reflects the wide range of reuse options and technologies available in different city contexts. Read the blogpost about REVAMP. Currently, the SISS team is piloting REVAMP in Colombia and Kenya as part of the UrbanCircle project, which explores the governance dimensions that can facilitate transition to circular economy.

EWI: Empowerment in WASH Index is an innovative tool designed for measuring empowerment and social outcomes of water, sanitation and hygiene interventions. It is usually expected that WASH intervention will result in improved gender equity and other positive (e.g. increased time for productive work or education), there is limited concrete evidence and few ways to measure these changes. The EWI project in Burkina Faso and Ghana is developing a new Empowerment in WASH Index that aims to do just that. Read the impact story about the EWI work.


SISS is envisaged as a five-year programme. The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) is providing core funding. The Initiative and partner organisations will also seek for a range of sanitation-related activities and projects.

Read the new SISS brochure (PDF, 900 KB).

Child Drinking Fresh Water From Tap

Resource-Oriented Sanitation in Emergencies (ROSE) provides guidance for implementing enhanced sustainability of sanitation provision in emergency camps.

Sustainable Sanitation and Agenda 2030

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) , the centrepiece of Agenda 2030, provide a much stronger basis for promoting sustainable sanitation than did their predecessors, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). This is partly in the fact that the SDGs deal directly with sanitation, giving water and sanitation their own dedicated goal, Goal 6. The only mention of sanitation in the MDGs was under Goal 7, Ensure Environmental Stability: “Target 7.C: Halve, by 2015, the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation” (this sanitation target was met by only 95 countries).Another advantage of the SDGs is moving beyond a relative target (halving the proportion without basic sanitation access) to sanitation “for all”, with “special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations”.

And the SDGs take more of a system perspective on sanitation. While the MDGs called only for access to “basic sanitation” (although in progress monitoring this was substituted with “improved sanitation facility”, defined as “one that hygienically separates human excreta from human contact”), SDG Target 6.3 also considers wastewater disposal, recycling and safe reuse.


Sustainable Development Goal 6: Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.

Target 6.2: By 2030 achieve access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all, and end open defecation, paying special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations

Target 6.3: By 2030 improve water quality by reducing pollution, eliminating dumping and minimizing release of hazardous chemicals and materials, halving the proportion of untreated wastewater, and substantially increasing recycling and safe reuse globally


However, a quick look at the SDGs reveals that more sustainable sanitation and wastewater management can help countries make progress copst-effectively in many goal areas beyond Goal 6. This is especially true when wastewater and excreta management includes safe recovery and reuse of water, nutrients, organic matter, energy content and other valuable resources.

The figure at the top of the page shows which SDG target areas can be improved through more sustainable sanitation and wastewater management, and how more ambition in the systems leads to more “added value” in terms of broader sustainable development. Click on the figure to see a full-size version. The figure comes from the 2016 SEI-UN Environment Programme publication Sanitation, Wastewater Management and Sustainability: From Waste Disposal to Resource Recovery.