Businesses and Water Stewardship: The Formation of an International Standard

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Businesses must be actively involved in the management of water resources.  Businesses depend on quality and reliable supplies of water for direct and indirect uses including drinking, agricultural production, energy production, transportation, cleaning, resource extraction, processing, and so on. Many businesses use a significant amount of water in comparison to other users, so it is vital that they properly manage water resources in order to ensure the future supply.  However, there currently is no standard framework for planning, classifying, and documenting the water stewardship efforts by businesses. It is in the interest of businesses to invest in sustainable water use because water scarcity affects the ability to produce and transport goods, which affects investments and business risk.

The Alliance for Water Stewardship, formed in 2008 by a variety of organizations including World Wildlife Fund and The Nature Conservancy, is in the process of creating an International Water Stewardship Standard.  This proposed standard was presented at the session titled “Corporate Water Stewardship: Moving Toward Verifiable Sustainable Water Management” at the World Water Forum 6.  This standard focuses on the industrial site, watershed, and supply chain.  It will certify specific industrial sites on their water stewardship at three levels – Certified, Gold Certified, and Platinum Certified.  The session was led by Alexis Morgan, the Global Water Roundtable Coordinator on behalf of WWF, and the panel including Karen Golmer from Sealed Air, Romit Sen from the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry(FICCI), Geoff Townsend from Nalco, and Jason Morrison from UN CEO Water Mandate.


Current Business Practices

Although the relationship between water and the success of businesses may not initially be obvious, many businesses acknowledge the relevance of sustainable water supply.  Romit Sen of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry shared the results of a survey that found 60% of businesses reported being impacted by water availability today and 78% of businesses reported expecting to be impacted by water availability in the future.

There are existing tools, such as the Carbon Disclosure Project, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) reporting, the Water Disclosure Project, and water footprints.

However, there is no standard tool to verify the impacts of businesses’ strategies to reduce their water footprint and risks.  There is also no easy tool to compare these strategies across companies and sectors.


Challenges Faced by Businesses

Businesses face many challenges in the field of water stewardship, including:

1)      Confusing terminology – terms such as ‘footprint’ and ‘stewardship’ are often understood differently by different people;

2)      A lack of data and structure to create a useful water balance;

3)      Water-use reduction efforts focused primarily on the water-energy nexus, but not sufficiently covering other areas;

4)      Difference between the actual cost of water and the virtual cost that reflects its scarcity;

5)      The need for comprehensive indicators.


Draft of the International Water Stewardship Standard

This draft is divided into 12 steps, each with four principles; governance, water balance, water quality, and important water areas.  The 12 steps are:

  1. Make a leadership commitment
  2. Measure the site’s water use
  3. Measure the use of water in the defined area of influence
  4. Measure the current status of water in the defined area of influence
  5. Measure the impacts and risks of the site’s water use in the defined area of influence
  6. Measure and manage the site’s indirect water use
  7. Develop plans for rare incidents
  8. Develop and internally disseminate a water robust stewardship plan or policy
  9. Remain in legal compliance and respect water rights
  10. Improve your water impacts at the site and beyond within the defined area of influence
  11. Develop and maintain the necessary capacity to undertake water stewardship
  12. Disclose your water stewardship plans, actions and results

The Alliance for Water Stewardship is looking for feedback and suggestions on this draft and welcomes all suggestions online until June 15th, 2012.  The goal is to publish a final version in mid-2013 and begin certification soon after.


What do you think of businesses’ current approach to water stewardship?  How will this certification influence businesses, the ways that they manage water, and the ways that others access and compare this information?

4 thoughts on “Businesses and Water Stewardship: The Formation of an International Standard

    • I think there are some advantages to consolidating the tools – it makes the process more straightforward and makes it easier to compare the efforts and success of companies or sites. However, the focus of each company or site may differ and one tool may not fit the needs of diverse companies and sites.

      This standard, according to the draft, intends to integrate and complement existing tools. The great thing is that it is still a draft and asks for stakeholder input on this exact topic, so it will hopefully become whatever tool the stakeholders need.

  1. Pingback: A Standard to Verify and Certify Water Stewardship: Interview with Alexis Morgan | Studentreporter

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