External Engagement

 

Many water-related business risks stem from the water-related conditions outside a company’s fenceline. Because of this, companies are increasingly pursuing external engagement strategies geared toward improving water resource management at the local, regional, and national levels, thereby potentially mitigating water risk.

A company will ideally make linkages describing how specific external engagements align with or advance its water strategies and goals.

Content Scope Format
Basic
  • Participation in global initiatives
Companywide Narrative; qualitative
Advanced (includes basic reporting)
  • Consumer/public engagement and awareness building
  • Policy advocacy
  • Place-based collective action (e.g., community engagement, basin restoration, data sharing)
Location-specific

BASIC

Participation in global initiatives

Many companies participate in water-related initiatives that seek to better understand specific water challenges and solutions, or otherwise offer platforms through which companies can assess or demonstrate their water-related activities. Examples of initiatives include the CEO Water Mandate, World Economic Forum’s 2030 Water Resources Group, WBCSD, WFN, and GEMI. Companies often report on their participation in these initiatives to demonstrate action. Reporting in this area typically includes a commitment to that group’s programs and a description of how involvement has shaped company water strategies and performance.

ADVANCED

Consumer/public engagement and awareness building

A significant number of companies conduct awareness campaigns directed specifically at their consumers or the general public. These usually speak to global water challenges or provide information on how to use their products in a way that is responsible with respect to water. Such engagements can encourage more sustainable water management generally, but they can also be a way to minimize negative impacts associated with product use. Reporting on awareness-building campaigns speaks to:

  • The aspect of water sustainability being addressed
  • The medium or forum in which consumers or other interests are being engaged
  • The campaign’s effectiveness in influencing behavior patterns (quantitatively, when possible)

Policy advocacy

Many companies influence national- and subnational-level policy development so as to encourage more sustainable water management. Due to the pervasive mistrust of corporate lobbying (particularly in the United States), reporting in this area should be quite explicit regarding how the company’s inputs and recommendations in the formulation of government policy and regulation help advance the water-sustainability agenda. Companies that disclose their lobbying activities often discuss specific key details of the legislation, the ways in which it contributes to more sustainable water management, and the amount of financial support given, if any.

Place-based collective action (e.g., community engagement, basin restoration, data sharing)

Disclosure in this area pertains to describing local-, basin-, or national-level activities in which companies collaborate with other organizations to advance shared goals related to one or more water challenges. Such on-the-ground engagements are typically difficult to report since they are heavily dependent on a nuanced discussion of the qualitative basin context and stakeholder dynamics. Furthermore, it is often difficult to communicate progress on such collective actions when they are addressing broad concepts and intangible issues such as improving water governance capacity or alleviating water shortages. Reporting on key aspects of place-based engagement can be done consistently regardless of the location or type of entity involved in the collective action, however. Some of these aspects are discussed below.

The nature of the challenge
Disclosing companies should discuss the nature of the water-related challenge being addressed and how it affects the company (and others in the basin), as well as how the collective action aims to address the challenge.

The level and nature of engagement
The company should discuss the scope of the collective action, who it is engaging with (e.g., specific government agencies, civil society organizations, other businesses, or communities), the interests shared by those involved, and the type of collective action approach being utilized. Disclosure audiences should be able to understand the respective roles of the company and the interested parties with whom it is engaging and the extent to which partner organizations are aware of and support company activities.

The interventions pursued
Disclosure audiences will also want to know what specific interventions the collective action is pursuing. Examples of specific interventions that companies seek to engage collectively with others on include:

  • Encouraging efficient water use
  • Engendering the development of effective governance
  • Supporting or sharing research, analysis, data, and monitoring
  • Aiding and financing infrastructure development and maintenance
  • Advancing public awareness
  • Working on community-level WASH issues
  • Supporting climate change adaptation and resilience
  • Protecting or restoring ecosystem services and source water areas
  • Promoting better on-farm practices
  • Supporting effluent management and reuse
  • Enhancing stormwater management and flood control

Ideally, a company will demonstrate how the intervention it is pursuing addresses the risks and interests of the organizations involved in the collective action as well as how it benefits others in the basin more broadly.

The effort’s integrity
Collective action efforts and water stewardship initiatives rely on their integrity to be credible and to achieve the desired win-win outcomes. For such efforts to have integrity, they have the three following components:

  1. Trustworthy, credible, and accountable partners
  2. Inclusive, transparent, and responsive processes that lead to informed and balanced decision making
  3. Clear objectives and demonstrable outcomes that advance sustainable water management

When reporting on collective action efforts, companies will therefore be well served to articulate the range of partners participating, the roles they play, and how they are held to account. They should explain how the effort was designed and how it is governed. And they should link the effort’s objectives and outcomes to the broader vision of sustainable water management.

Additional resources

“DIAGEO: SUSTAINABILITY & RESPONSIBILITY REPORT 10`1”
Our community investment is particularly focused in Africa, where a range of our own programmes – providing boreholes, hand-dug wells, rainwater harvesting and domestic filtration – help increase access to clean water. More information on our programmes to provide access to clean water is available on page 56. As a signatory of the CEO Water Mandate, we also advocate for collective and innovative solutions to help solve the global water crisis. For example, this year, we lobbied the US government to direct more aid to water problems in Africa.”

“THE COCA-COLA COMPANY: 2012/13 GRI REPORT”
“In the town of Kok-Ozek, as in many communities in the former Soviet Union, the water system brought water as far as a central depot, but did not include infrastructure for delivering water to households. In partnership with UNDP and local authorities, we built a piping network designed to deliver water to every household and to schools and community health centers in the town center. More significantly, we helped the community establish a cooperative that will oversee water distribution, maintenance and sanitation, helping to support then sustainability of the new system. Our model was identified as a best practice by the UNDP board of directors and by the Kazakh government, and may be replicated throughout the country.”

“SASOL: SUSTAINABLE DEVELOMENT REPORT 2013”
“Our water conservation partnerships with municipalities in the Vaal River catchment area seek to drive municipal water conservation initiatives, increase public awareness of water conservation, stimulate job creation and realise cost savings for the municipality.

Our flagship partnership is with Emfuleni municipality and the German development agency Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ). Through this partnership, we committed R5 million, and leveraged an additional R5 million, for the Boloka Metsi project.

If successful, this project will help Emfuleni reduce its annual water expenses by approximately R62 million, a portion of which will be re-invested in sustaining the project.

The water savings achieved to date with the Emfuleni water conservation partnership equates to offsetting approximately 10% of the annual water use of our Sasolburg facility or 2% of our total annual water use from the Vaal River system.”



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