Project Background


Launched by the UN Secretary-General in July 2007, the UN Global Compact’s CEO Water Mandate (Mandate) is a public-private initiative designed to assist companies in the development, implementation, and disclosure of water sustainability policies and practices. The Mandate recognizes that the business sector, through the production of goods and services, significantly impacts water resources—both directly and through supply chains. Mandate-endorsing CEOs acknowledge that to operate in a more sustainable manner and contribute to the vision of the Global Compact and the realization of the Millennium Development Goals, they have a responsibility to make water resource management a priority and to work with governments, UN agencies, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), local communities, and other interested parties to address global water challenges.

In November 2010, the Mandate released the Guide to Responsible Business Engagement with Water Policy. The publication defines responsible engagement as “corporate water management initiatives that involve interaction with government entities; local communities; and/or civil society organizations with the goal of advancing: 1) responsible internal company management of water resources within direct operations and supply chains in line with policy imperatives and 2) the sustainable and equitable management of the catchment in which companies and their suppliers operate.” The case for responsible engagement is built on the premise that water-related risks are shared among government entities, businesses, communities, and the environment, and the Guide to Responsible Engagement reflects the belief that facilitating equitable processes through which all affected parties can come together to mitigate these shared risks or pursue improvement opportunities is a powerful tool for combating this century’s mounting water challenges. Success in responsible engagement is thus critically tied to effective collective action among all parties with a stake in sustainable water management at the relevant scale—local, regional, national, or international.

The Guide to Responsible Engagement presents five principles (see below) that foster effective, sustainable, and equitable external engagements related to water. These principles, which apply equally to water-related collective actions, will bolster the credibility and effectiveness of a company’s collective action engagements, and should thus frame the use of this Guide and the implementation of related engagements. “Considering the Five Principles of Responsible Business Engagement with Water Policy” (found in the Resources section of this site) provides a detailed articulation of these principles as first presented in the Guide to Responsible Business Engagement with Water Policy.


Principles of Responsible Business Engagement in Water Policy

  • Principle 1: Advance sustainable water management
    The engagement in water policy must be motivated by a genuine interest in furthering efficient, equitable, and ecologically sustainable water management.
  • Principle 2: Respect public and private roles
    Responsible corporate engagement in water policy entails ensuring that activities do not infringe upon, but rather support, the government’s mandate and responsibilities to develop and implement water policy. Acting consistently with this principle includes a commitment to work within a well-regulated (and enforced) environment.
  • Principle 3: Strive for inclusiveness and partnerships
    Responsible engagement in water policy promotes inclusiveness and equitable, genuine, and meaningful partnerships across a wide range of interests.
  • Principle 4: Be pragmatic and consider integrated engagement
    Responsible engagement in water policy proceeds in a coherent manner that recognizes the interconnectedness between water and many other policy arenas. It is a proactive approach, rather than one responsive to events, and it is cognizant of, and sensitive to, the environmental, social, cultural, and political contexts within which it takes place.
  • Principle 5: Be accountable and transparent
    Companies responsibly engaged in water policy are fully transparent and accountable for their role in a way that demonstrates alignment with sustainable water management and promotes trust among stakeholders.

Effective collective action is both the key to approaching shared water risk successfully and to addressing a substantial point of vulnerability for many companies. In its most productive form, collective action leads to a strong sense of shared interests, shared responsibility, and shared benefits. Companies will typically embrace collective efforts with interested parties to benefit from their experience, gain fresh ideas and perspectives, enhance credibility and legitimacy, increase the momentum for tackling a water challenge, pool resources to address common objectives, or simply become better stewards of a water resource.

This Guide presents several case examples of collective action that have resulted in substantial water-related risk reduction and stewardship enhancements for both individual companies and a full range of interests within a watershed. These case examples exemplify the success many companies and communities have realized by engaging in collective action. This Guide also addresses, however, a reality: that effective collective action requires establishing nonconventional relationships with nontraditional partners, and involves a commitment to shared goals and the recognition of the potential for tradeoffs between company interests and broader public benefits. It can expose a company to a complex landscape of needs, interests, personalities, and organizational structures. Collective action requires the development of new skills and knowledge, such as a more in-depth understanding of community needs and values, and enhanced capabilities to connect with government and NGO actors. Companies engaging in collective action can face a host of vulnerabilities, including additional public scrutiny, unrealistic expectations, and skepticism about motives. Done poorly, collective action can undermine a company’s reputation, tarnish product brands, and exacerbate existing problems.

The CEO Water Mandate Guide to Water-Related Collective Action speaks directly to these opportunities and challenges by providing a stepwise approach to collective action preparation. It will help a company connect the right topics with the right people in an engagement process that is appropriately structured to optimize the collective efforts and impact of all participants.

Scope and Purpose of the Guide

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