Water management and stewardship: taking stock of corporate water behaviour

Working and discussion papers
November 2016
Peter Newborne and James Dalton

Commercial companies have become increasingly active in debates regarding water management. Company representatives arrive in numbers at the annual World Water Week in Stockholm and are increasingly active in sessions there, as well as appearing on panels at other water-related international conferences and meetings. The World Water Council and the OECD note that ‘companies have been outspoken’ in their ‘warnings of water risks to their operations’, which, if not managed, will ‘pose a threat to economic growth’.

Impacts are already being felt. The 607 listed companies who responded in 2016 to the request by CDP Water for investment-relevant information reported US$14 billion in water-related impacts this year.

The aim of this research by ODI and IUCN has been to better understand the current status of corporate water management and ‘stewardship’ and the responses to it. The authors carried out semi-structured, informal interviews – a total of 97 between May 2015 and September 2016 – with key informants from companies in different sectors, as well as from a range of actors from other backgrounds who work in, or are close observers of, water management and stewardship.    

The discussion paper considers the opportunities for stewardship to strengthen water management and achieve development benefits, and discusses the issues to which water stewardship gives rise including identifying expectations that are misplaced and cautioning against misleading claims. The drivers of corporate ‘water behaviour(s)’ are discussed and progress towards water ‘stewardship’ against the international guides/standard assessed.