The water stewardships steps approach is designed by WWF to help situate and better understand the differing activities of companies and to show where different companies were acting on water issues. The steps do not represent a wholesale description of action for every company, especially considering that the local nature of water will dictate where some companies engage. They also do not distinguish sectoral and geographic differences, associated risk exposure, and the scale at which a company wants to (or has to) act.
These steps help guide any Water Stewardship strategy. While they are basic in definition there is a lot of depth and detail to each step. There is clearly an overlap between steps, meaning that they should not be seen as prescriptive and contained, but rather fluid and inter-connected.
The steps are also not meant to be linear in the sense that companies make a graduation between the steps as they evolve in their thinking and experience. Instead, they are an iterative process of learning, acting, doing and improving. Lastly, not all companies will take this journey. Depending upon the sector, their risk, their ambition, etc, they may work at certain parts of these steps.
1. Water Awareness – Gaining an awareness of water issues – in terms of how water impacts business and how business impacts water – is an on-going and iterative step for all companies. A key facet of awareness is internal engagement. From the CEO level to plant managers and suppliers and employees, building awareness can help companies ‘sell’ the water story within to elicit action where it matters. Water awareness can also highlight how a company is perceived by others, including basin stakeholders, the press, and consumers, which in turn influences the degree of risk that a particular company faces. External debates and their sector-specific implications will inform a company’s understanding of water and its associated risks, and will influence strategy and interventions.
At its most basic, water awareness must include a (high level) understanding of the global water challenges, the dependence a company has on freshwater and their exposure to water-related risks.
2. Knowledge of Impact – Impact refers to the wider understanding of where a company’s ‘footprint’ is actually located in terms of direct (company operations) and indirect (supply chain) water dependencies. This generally includes measuring elements of water use, as well as an estimation of ‘impact’ on water resources. In this step, many companies begin to look beyond the fence line of their operations to understand the wider context of their water use, including global debates, peer examples, and relevant watershed issues.
Hot-spot and risk analysis can help drive understanding of these impacts. These assessments should include the ‘context’ of the basin, as well as the identification of high risk ‘hot spots’ caused by water quantity and/or quality issues.
3. Internal Action – Internal action implies that some element of learning and prioritisation has occurred and a strategy (of some sort) is in place. For most companies, this is the more comfortable first step of getting one’s own house in order by outlining goals, targets, actions, and plans that will help tackle the more immediate solutions to the problem – the low-hanging fruit. Internal action tends to incorporate the following crucial activities: company targets to reduce baseline water use; launch of water efficiency pilot projects; engagement with employees, consumers and marketing to address opportunities and risks; improvement of water quantity and quality reporting; and pollution prevention.
This is also the step where companies begin engaging their suppliers, and assess how to take action to realize supply chain improvements through alternative sourcing, product innovation, or improved management of water in the production of raw materials.
4. Stakeholder engagement – In this step, a recognition that working with others and at various scales (global fora to local water groups) is a necessary part of a robust water stewardship strategy. Engagement with stakeholders where company water use and associated risk is high can help mitigate basin-related risks, boost reputation on water issues, and build brand trust and loyalty. Stakeholders can be anyone from other users in a particular watershed, to other companies, NGOs, sector initiatives, public agencies, and standard-setting bodies.
Stakeholder engagement can take the form of participation in public fora to address water management issues, support for freshwater conservation projects in watersheds of importance to company operations, partnerships with watershed groups, NGOs or other companies that pool technical, human, and financial resources to conserve and improve freshwater resources, and participation in collective actions to improve water management such as the effort currently under way to develop and promote a global standard for water stewardship.
5. Influence governance – Depending on the sector and their exposure to risk, this step can be one of the trickiest for companies. It is also where engagement can bring about higher risk (perhaps for shorter periods) but is nonetheless a course of action which requires careful planning and thought.
The motivation for engagement is usually due to circumstances of direct impact to a company, and depending will consist of actions ranging from advocacy, influencing or lobbying, partnership, financial support, facilitation, institutional strengthening etc. This will also reflect the scale at which intervention takes place, either local, watershed or at a National/state level.
In some places, companies may choose to use this strategy if risk is high or the imperative for better management from public authorities is seen as a future risk. Most engagement activity will depend on the sector and their ability to influence, whether or not they are a strategic partner of government (energy, water provision) or if they are a manufacturer of goods. The opportunities through engagement can mean a significant loss of risk, including social and legal license to operate and clearer and consistent laws and regulations that govern company water use.
Click on the link below for more information.
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