Levels of Engagement



A company considering collective action as a pathway to addressing water-related risks or opportunities has several engagement options. Collective action will be most successful when tailored to the motivation and capacity of all engaged parties, as well as to the context in which the action occurs. This Guide presents four collective action engagement levels: 1) sharing information (informative); 2) seeking advice (consultative); 3) pursuing common objectives (collaborative); and 4) integrating decisions, resources, and actions (integrative). A summary of each is provided below. As addressed in Section 4.3, three factors will influence your determination of which engagement level is best to pursue: the degree to which addressing challenges is dependent on the actions of external parties; the interest and capacity of those external parties to engage in the collective action; and the interest and capacity within your own organization to support a collective action.


Sharing information (informative collective action)

This level of engagement focuses on coordinating the sharing of information in the interest of expanding knowledge and increasing transparency, familiarity, and trust among interested parties. It involves determining, in consultation with interested parties, the information most relevant for exchange, and the means and frequency under which sharing will take place. Shared information might include general organizational plans and priorities, privately collected data or analyses, or specific monitoring, operational, or management practices. Informative collective action, by design, will typically have relatively low resource commitments, may not involve convening interested parties as a group, will maintain clear independence for decision making and implementation among the interested parties, and can operate effectively with relatively low expectations of the company beyond the agreed upon information sharing. Case Example 1, featuring the Southeast Asia Apparel Water Action, provides an example of informative collective action.

Sharing Information to Support Improved Water Management among Apparel Suppliers

In 2011, the apparel companies in the CEO Water Mandate (Mandate) and UN Environment Programme (UNEP) convened national-level capacity building workshops in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, and Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The workshops engaged Nike’s, Levi Strauss’s, H&M’s, and Nautica’s garment wash and finishing suppliers, local NGOs, and representatives from government agencies to better understand the nature of water challenges in the region, discuss the need for improved industrial water management, and share information on best practices that have proved beneficial for apparel manufacturers in Vietnam and Cambodia. The Mandate and UNEP compiled low-cost good water management practices specific to apparel wash and finishing facilities, including some pertaining to internal governance, measuring and monitoring, recycling and reuse, single-process and multiple-process optimization, and wastewater treatment. The workshops were effective in building awareness of the importance of water sustainability, highlighted cost-saving opportunities from easily implemented water-use efficiency measures, and facilitated improved dialogue between brands and their suppliers, potentially paving the way for further sharing of knowledge and best practices


Seeking advice (consultative collective action)

This level of engagement focuses on convening specific interested parties to exchange ideas and expertise and to create a shared understanding of needs, interests, and challenges in order to enable informed, independent decision making by all parties. Consensus among interested parties is not needed nor explicitly sought, although some expectations for company responsiveness to the information provided by interested parties will likely exist. Overall, resource commitments for this type of collective action can be kept low, joint expectations need not be established, and responsiveness to input will have substantial flexibility. Case Example 2, Clear Creek Watershed Forum, provides an example of the Molson Coors Brewing Company acting as a catalyst for the formation of a consultative forum that has acted as a centerpiece for improvements in Colorado’s Clear Creek Watershed.

Consulting Stakeholders to Frame Watershed Improvement Priorities

Molson Coors Brewing Company (formerly Coors Brewing Company) in Golden, Colorado, has a substantial presence in the Clear Creek Watershed, drawing groundwater for beer production and surface water to support operations. Beginning in the early to mid-1980s, Clear Creek surface water came under substantial pressure from a combination of diverse water quality and quantity issues stemming from historical activities and an upsurge in population and economic growth in the region. With a need for and commitment to high-quality water and overall watershed health, Molson Coors became the prime motivator in a collective watershed movement targeted at engaging a broad range of interested parties in efforts to identify, fund, and implement watershed-improvement projects. These efforts led to the formation of the Clear Creek Watershed Forum. Its goal is to bring together stakeholders from throughout the watershed to share knowledge, attitudes, concerns, and values in order to develop cooperative strategies and projects that promote sustainable watershed management and water quality improvements. The forum held its first structured stakeholder gathering in 1993, drawing together nearly 100 highly diverse watershed participants—ranging from mountain rural to urban, agricultural to industrial, and recreational to regulatory—to address key watershed issues, including funding, project, and research priorities.

Since that time, biannual forums have been held to consult with the stakeholders to update and modify watershed management priorities and investments, with a focus on improving the ecological, economic, and societal issues within the watershed. Molson Coors, a critical catalyst and source of funding at the inception of collective action efforts in Clear Creek, today continues to play an active role in the forum— and in several other Clear Creek watershed initiatives, including the Clear Creek Watershed Foundation and Upper Clear Creek Watershed Association—while other key watershed interests have joined in to own and provide support for continuing engagement efforts.


Pursuing common objectives (collaborative collective action)

This level of engagement seeks to move interested parties closer together and reflects a belief that finding common ground, establishing common objectives, and sharing implementation responsibilities hold the potential to increase both individual and collective effectiveness. In collaborative collective action, consensus among interested parties is highly desirable, though not a necessary condition for success. Decision making outside the collective action remains independent for participants, even as expectations may be established for joint activities among participants in the engagement. Formal accountability mechanisms are typically not put in place. Collective action resource commitments and expectations among interested parties usually increase relative to informative or consultative collective action. Case Example 3, involving Suez Environnement’s Lyonnaise des Eaux, showcases collaborative collective action.

Collaboration with Watershed Stakeholders for Improved Watershed Health

Suez Environnement, through its subsidiary, Lyonnaise des Eaux, provides water distribution and sanitation services to municipalities and industrial companies throughout France. The company provides water for 19 percent of the French population, and it collects and treats wastewater for 18 percent of the French population. As a water utility, Suez Environnement has made stakeholder consultations an intrinsic part of its business operations. Recently, the company shifted its core water distribution model from “selling volumes” to “selling value,” and thus its perspective on engaging interested parties throughout the watersheds in which it operates has evolved. Its focus has expanded from a small water cycle—the distribution and treatment system—to a large water cycle—including resource protection in the entire watershed where the company provides water services. Suez Environnement also developed 12 sustainability commitments, two of which speak directly to enhanced collaboration with a full range of watershed stakeholders:

  • “Commitment 10: Maintain an active dialogue with our stakeholders by regularly organizing conciliation meetings at relevant levels, in order to improve correlation between corporate strategy and the expectations of civil society.”
  • “Commitment 11: Become a key actor of local sustainable development by taking an active part in the economic and social life (employment, reintegration, etc.) of the communities in which we are present, and by acting as a partner for the local authorities in their sustainable development initiatives.”

Within the context of this new business model, Suez Environnement has sponsored and moderated efforts in several watersheds to convene a wide range of stakeholders to discuss water quality, water quantity, and overall watershed health. Among the stakeholders involved in these discussions were agricultural operators, a community not previously engaged by Suez Environnement. Initial discussions focused on an exchange of information, with a focus on the substantial monitoring data collected by Suez Environnement. This information pointed to the critical role that agricultural operations played in water quality of the affected watersheds, and identified a set of agricultural practices that could lower negative impacts on water quality. The success of these discussions led to the creation of an established consultative watershed stakeholder group, which focuses on joint advocacy efforts around aquifer recharge and watershed protections (such as buffer areas and mitigation banks) and on new monitoring tools such as Nitrascope™, an innovative system that monitors water resources. The engagement efforts with the agricultural community also led to the establishment of a joint venture company between Lyonnaise des Eaux and Terrena (France’s first agricultural cooperative). This new company, Onnova, seeks to find innovative solutions in response to the environmental needs of farmers and is focused on four types of services:

  • Water management for the agro-food industry, including providing support to manufacturers in their efforts to reduce their consumption throughout the entire water cycle;
  • Preservation and restoration of biodiversity in territorial development;
  • Assistance in water management for improved usage; and
  • Best uses of organic material.


Integrating decisions and resources (integrative collective action)

This level of engagement emerges when an alignment of interests, resources, decision making, and coordinated actions is desired or needed to meet water-related challenges or opportunities. In integrative collective action, interested parties are typically formally convened or have a formal joint structure—for example, as a partnership governed by a memorandum of understanding. Consensus is highly desired (and potentially a requirement for success) in order to establish a clear commitment to common purpose and sufficient joint participation in implementation actions to ensure objectives are met. Processes generally consist of information sharing and negotiation to identify areas of shared interest, and to work toward formal and documented consensus. Governing mechanisms for integrative collective action typically specify roles and responsibilities of interested parties and include accountability mechanisms. Resource commitments will be high, and responsiveness to diverse interests will be a likely requirement for success. Case Example 4, a formal partnership effort initiated by Anglo American Thermal Coal, reflects the integration of planning, decision making, resourcing, and implementation processes in a multi-party effort to mitigate water risk.

Integrating Decisions and Resources

In 2007, Anglo American recognized water as a core business risk, for both long-term strategy and current operations. In 2010, the company developed a high-level strategic plan for water that includes working beyond the “factory fence” and focuses on resilient business, stewardship, and catchment management. Each particular business region (e.g., southern Africa) has an engagement strategy tailored to the regional perspective and to the operational and water concerns there. In Emalahleni, South Africa, collective action was used to mitigate the water quality and quantity concerns of the region. The risk concern was threefold: 1) The mines, situated at a geological low in the catchment, are at risk of flooding, which could sterilize coal reserves, terminating further mining opportunities; 2) new regulatory requirements curtailed the release of mine water into the catchment without prior treatment; and 3) the rapid development of the city of Emalahleni resulted in the demand for potable drinking water exceeding supply, endangering the ecological reserve and users downstream of the city. The city, therefore, began exploring alternative water sources to supplement their demand.

Anglo and the community of water users established that reuse of mine water would help mitigate all of these risks, and the use of collective action was seen as the strategy toward putting together the plan. With Anglo American taking the lead, a joint body was established as the vehicle by which integrative collective action could take place during development. The coal mines in the region (three Anglo American mines and one BHP Billiton mine) put forward the capital expenditure and running costs of treating the mine water to a quality suitable for discharge into the environment. The municipality is responsible for the costs of treating the water to potable standards and conveying it to their reservoirs. All parties were encouraged to come to the fore with their respective contributions, a needed dynamic that addressed the ownership and value of water.

Besides securing the required quality and quantity of water, the collective action has opened up future opportunities for Anglo American, the government, nongovernmental organizations, and other businesses to engage and problem solve on an ongoing basis.

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