Once a company has a thorough, nuanced understanding of the water policy contexts in which it operates, it can begin planning its engagement objectives and the strategy that will be most effective at achieving them. This section highlights key aspects of this planning process.
Align engagement opportunities with appropriate scale
All levels of government have some influence on water policy, and a company will have to decide which public entities to engage with and at what scale(s). In addition, as the company explores the most strategic type(s) of engagement and entities to engage, it should consider the merits of pursuing engagement and action across five core scales: internal and supplier operations, local, regional or catchment, national, and international.
Establish and articulate engagement goals and strategy
Consistent with Principle 1, effective engagement will need to be driven by clarity of purpose, which will ensure that internal company management is well-aligned and that external communication sends clear and consistent messages. Critical to this activity is a thorough understanding of the key water issues and local contexts, clear engagement objectives, a roadmap to achieving these objectives, and the establishment of clear responsibility boundaries. An understanding of how the company will position itself relative to public institutions and other stakeholders is also essential.
To decide on the strategy and methods it will employ to pursue its engagement objectives, a company must determine the nature, topics, and means of engagement. For example, the company might pursue direct interventions, information sharing and research, technical assistance, advocacy programs, or a combination of these.
Ensure the internal house is in order
Engagement in water policy will likely generate scrutiny of a company’s own operations. Thus it is vital to ensure that internal corporate water policy, practices, and performance are consistent with the goal of establishing and maintaining credibility and legitimacy with other players. Stakeholder perceptions and judgment of the company are influenced by levels of water use efficiency, water quality impacts, water withdrawals in competition with other critical water uses, preferential supply arrangements, disclosure of water use, and undue influence on public policy and management. As a result, companies should facilitate internal and supplier actions that are in line with related regulations and legislation, (e.g., permits, water allocations, discharge limits, and siting protocol), as well as broader water policy objectives. In pursuit of good operational practices, companies can implement basic efficiency practices and technologies (e.g., water recycling or low-flow systems) and take steps to make sure they adequately comply with local regulations. These precautions reduce risk by alleviating competition among other users in a catchment and ensuring compliance with legal requirements and social norms.
Water accounting methods and tools, such as water footprinting, Life Cycle Assessment, and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development’s Global Water Tool, are useful ways through which a company can assess water-related risk and impacts. In addition, companies can work to influence suppliers to implement similar operational efficiency practices.
Avoid policy and regulatory capture
Stakeholder concerns of corporate policy capture are perhaps the largest barrier to companies playing a meaningful and responsible role in the development and implementation of water policy. Policy capture exists where organizations unduly dominate a policymaking process to an extent that excludes or subdues other stakeholder views, resulting in policy that favors narrow vested interests to the detriment of the public good. Likewise, regulatory capture occurs where the agency responsible for regulation moves too far toward accommodating the interests of the regulated entity and can result in favorable handling, such as failure to vigorously enforce regulations. If not handled carefully, both may derail the engagement process, cause reputational harm, and ultimately work against the achievement of SWM.
Processes of capture have the following amorphous features that can make them hard to identify, difficult to prove, and challenging to guard against:
- They tend to work through subtle rather than mechanistic, visible processes.
- They occur along a sliding scale of relative influence rather than as a binary state.
- They can be unconscious or conscious, intentional or accidental.
- They tend to involve thoughts and emotions rather than more tangible elements.
- The boundaries between legitimate lobbying and nefarious capture are blurred.
- There is sparse guidance on or academic study of the issue.