Water Stewardship 101

Answers to frequently asked questions

What is water stewardship and how does it differ from traditional water management?

The definition of water stewardship is widely accepted as the use of water that is socially and culturally equitable, environmentally sustainable and economically beneficial, achieved through a stakeholder-inclusive process that includes both site- and watershed-based actions.

For companies, this means considering how water is used within direct operations (i.e., at  facilities), and also how its water use impacts the watershed and how the conditions of the watershed impact its operations. Engaging key stakeholders as part of your enterprise-wide water stewardship strategy is critical.

To date, there has been a focus on water stewardship at sites, but The Water Council is actively working with partners to better define and recognize what constitutes good “corporate” water stewardship. Local water issues impact corporate policies and practices that in turn direct actions at the highest risk facilities to improve water stewardship outcomes.

These are critically important points to consider for taking credible action on water:

Water challenges are local

Water challenges and their corresponding risks to businesses are hyperlocal. A facility in water-abundant Milwaukee will have very different concerns from a facility in water-scarce Phoenix. Does it make sense for both facilities to implement the same strategies to address water? No. It’s important that these facilities consider and implement impactful actions that are informed by the context of the watershed and the operational aspects of each facility.

Water challenges are diverse

The company with operations in Milwaukee might face risks resulting from poor water quality and deteriorating infrastructure, while the company with operations in Phoenix might face water scarcity and changing regulations. The diversity of these challenges requires different responses that are informed by local context to be credible and impactful.

Water is a shared resource

Water is shared resource with a multitude of interested diverse stakeholders. It’s unlikely that any single actor is solely responsible for a water-related challenge. It’s equally unlikely that any single actor will be able to solve it. Due to the locality and diversity of water challenges, a company must involve local stakeholders in the process in order to adequately understand the water-related risks it faces. Not only does this lead to a better understanding of local water risks, but it also presents opportunities to act collectively toward solutions.

What does this all mean for my business?

It’s time to move beyond broadly defined efficiency and conservation goals and targets. Water-related challenges and risks require context-based solutions. Investors, customers and employees are no longer satisfied with glossy reports but instead are increasingly expecting tangible action addressing water issues. As companies assess water-related risk across their value chain and direct water stewardship actions where the risk is highest,  they are discovering that meaningful action transparently reported can lead to improvements of their overall operational and financial position. This means that companies need help assessing risk, crafting corporate strategies to address risk and drive continual improvement, and ensure a credible corporate water stewardship policy informs actions from the board room to the shop floor.

The Water Council has experts on staff to assist businesses on the entire spectrum of water stewardship work and can come alongside a business no matter where they stand on their water stewardship journey. Our offerings include WAVE, an independently verified program to help companies combine enterprise-wide water stewardship goals and policy with meaningful site-level action and credible ESG (environmental, social and governance) reporting, training and advisory services. Contact us today to learn how can help advance your water stewardship work.

Matt Howard

Vice President, Water Stewardship


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