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Collaboration Trumps Competition for Developers of Water Risk and Stewardship Tools

This post is part of a series on World Water Week, an annual event designed to draw attention to and discuss global water issues. Read more posts in this series.

This piece was co-authored by Anne-Leonore Boffi, Program Officer with the WBCSD, and Ruth Mathews, Executive Director of the Water Footprint Network.

The unsustainable use of water and the risks it creates is on the minds of many of the thousands of water experts from the corporate, NGO, and government worlds who convened in Stockholm this week for World Water Week. As companies increasingly view water as not just an environmental issue, but a complex driver of very real risks to their businesses, the appetite for better information on how to manage these risks and become good water stewards has grown substantially. In fact, many organizations have put tremendous effort into developing tools and methodologies and compiling the best publicly available water information so that companies can manage their water use in sustainable, efficient, and equitable ways.

This week in Stockholm, teams from the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), World Resources Institute (WRI), and Water Footprint Network (WFN) convened a seminar called “Towards Sustainability: Harmonising Water Tools for Better Water Governance”. The event focused on providing an overview of each tool and highlighting areas requiring better harmonization and coordination efforts to help drive companies towards better management and stewardship of water resources. The seminar also included Ceres, DEG (a German development finance institution), World Wildlife Fund (WWF), and the UN CEO Water Mandate. The goal of the seminar was to explain how our organizations are striving to provide companies with a clear, easy-to- understand, and compatible set of water management tools—not a variety of competing efforts, but rather an organized and coordinated front.

Existing Efforts

The groups meeting in Stockholm worked to coordinate the water risk and stewardship tools they have already created, including:

  • WRI’s Aqueduct: A tool which creates customizable global and basin-specific maps of water risk today and projections for the future

  • WBCSD’s Global Water Tool: A free and easy-to-use tool for companies and organizations to map their water use and assess risks relative to their global operations and supply chains.

  • GEMI’s Local Water Tool: This can be used in conjunction with the Global Water Tool to create step-by-step guides for investigating water risks, impacts, and management plans at specific sites or facilities facing significant water risks.

  • WFN’s Water Footprint Assessment Tool: A free online web application assisting users in water footprint quantification, sustainability assessment, and response formulation based on the Global Water Footprint Standard.

  • WWF and DEG’s Water Risk Filter: A risk-metric tool designed to help companies and investors ask the right questions about water, assess risks, and understand what to do in response.

  • Ceres’ Aqua Gauge: A tool which enables investors and companies to assess, score, and compare water management practices.

  • CEO Water Mandate’s Corporate Water Risk Disclosure Guidelines: A set of guidelines designed to help advance a common approach to corporate water disclosure that addresses the complexity of water resources in a comprehensive yet concise, practical manner.

This past year has been a year of innovation. These tools and others created by participants at the seminar—many of which were released this year—already represent significant progress towards supporting better water stewardship by companies. Although the tools and initiatives have different objectives, WBCSD, WRI, and WFN share a common vision of moving both companies and the public sector towards managing water at a watershed level in ways that are sustainable, efficient, and equitable.

Conclusions from Stockholm

Our seminar in Stockholm was an exciting opportunity to collect feedback and make plans on how to best advance our existing work on water risk and stewardship. Some of the key points raised during the conversation include:

  • Companies are not waiting for complete or perfect information to take action–they are keen to work with their operations and their suppliers to reduce strain on water resources and water risk before it impacts them.

  • There is still a need to find a better way to translate environmental risks into financial arguments that will help engage CFOs and other corporate managers.

  • Different tools can help corporations answer different questions about their water management. A next step for our organizations is to clearly communicate which tools are best suited to answering which questions.

  • Although different tools all have their own role to play, there is a need for a common language of definitions, concepts, and indicators between tools.

Looking Ahead

There’s a growing awareness of the business impacts of water scarcity, poor water quality, and water use competition. The next step is to continue to communicate where each tool is best suited for water management, identify and fill any existing gaps in their functionality, and combine efforts wherever possible. By doing so, we hope to achieve our ultimate vision: to drive more sustainable and equitable water resource management across sectors.

Watch a recording of the World Water Week seminar, courtesy of 2Degrees.

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