Corporate water management and stewardship: signs of evolution towards sustainability

Water stewardship aims to promote shared responsibility in water management through dialogue and collaboration between water users, for greater water security. Private firms and companies are asked to participate in multi-stakeholder processes so as to be part of the solution to water problems, including those beyond just their own premises and operations. In November 2016, the authors of this briefing note published a broad-based survey of water stewardship, focusing on the ‘drivers’ of corporate ‘water behaviour’. Now, three years later – based on further research and many new conversations with representatives of corporates and other actors – they return to the subject to consider what experience and knowledge has been acquired and what advances made in water management and stewardship. They ask which elements or aspects of business models relevant to water management are coming together, and what pieces of the water stewardship ‘puzzle’ are still missing. The note identifies tentative signs of evolution towards sustainability by leading companies and offers a working hypothesis for the food and beverage sector as a positive guide to the future. At the same time, it cautions against corporate plans for growth that do not take account of water availability limits in water-stressed catchments for example, as well as the risk of misleading use by companies of volumetric water accounting tools that conceal water realities in the individual catchment context.