Increasingly, there is recognition that sustainable water management (SWM) requires action by not just government but also business and civil society. It is derived from the underlying concept of integrated water resources management that ensures efficient, equitable, and sustainable development of the world’s limited water resources. Companies that rely on water for their core business (e.g., in the manufacturing of their goods or indirectly in the production of their inputs) recognize that they face water-related risks. Increasing water scarcity and pollution of water sources combined with inadequate Water governance systems have led to a clear business case for action, based on the proposition that more effective water management can help address and mitigate such risks. Corporate Water stewardship is founded on the notion that businesses can act in a positive manner to manage their risks and simultaneously meet local stakeholder expectations by mitigating adverse impacts on communities and ecosystems, thereby helping to protect a vital shared resource.
Generally defined as the use of water in a way that is socially equitable, environmentally sustainable, and economically beneficial, Water stewardship is achieved through a stakeholder-inclusive process that involves site- and basin-based actions. Water stewardship involves organizations taking shared responsibility to pursue meaningful individual and collective actions that benefit people and nature.
As basin-level problems increasingly affect all segments of society, water stewardship initiatives (WSIs) hold exciting potential as an approach to tackling shared water challenges. These WSIs leverage the expertise of businesses working collectively with public institutions, civil society organizations, and other water users at the basin level.
As well as making WSIs more impactful, sustainable, and cost-effective, ensuring high levels of integrity will reduce reputational risks that could be barriers to multi-stakeholder cooperation. This guide seeks to build on the lessons learned from the pioneers of WSIs around the world. Through a practical lens, and focusing on the needs of practitioners, the ultimate aim of this guide is to support existing and future WSIs in creating tangible benefits for society by ensuring high levels of integrity and transparency.