Access to water is one of the largest global challenges of the 21st Century—as reflected by Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 6) of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Water resources are under increasing pressure from population growth, rising water consumption, pollution, and climate variability . This is resulting in greater water scarcity, which is driving increased competition for water access and escalating conflicts amongst water users [1,2,3]. With an estimated 52 per cent of the world’s population at risk by 2050 due to unsustainable pressures on water resources and the natural environment , water challenges require genuine, targeted leadership from all actors—including government, civil society, and the private sector.
The private sector is increasingly recognising that it is not immune to the global water challenge, with water crises ranked as one of the top five risks facing the world’s economy, in terms of impact, since 2012 . Water stewardship has emerged as the principle approach adopted by the private sector, largely multinational companies to date, for the responsible management of water . Water stewardship, as defined by the Alliance for Water Stewardship Standard  is “the use of water that is socially equitable, environmentally sustainable and economically beneficial, achieved through a stakeholder-inclusive process that involves site-and catchment-based actions.” In other words, water stewardship requires a fundamental shift in the way private sector companies view and manage water as a shared resource, which extends beyond the operational fence line to the water catchment level.
This paper provides an overview of some of the drivers, barriers, and responses by the mining sector in moving from water management focused within the operational fence line to a stewardship approach. This is illustrated by select examples of recent leading practice and closes with potential opportunities for future research and expert guidance to support further progress in the sectors water management practices.