Driving water stewardship

The private sector - from small businesses, corporations, commercial farmers, banks, commodity traders, retailers to end consumers - exerts a huge influence on water resources. Through the scale of abstraction and consumption and the quality of wastewater, private sector water users shape the viability of water resources. By extension they also shape water resource management options.

What we’ve achieved
Highlighting the local water impacts of global consumption and production
In 2010, Water Witness worked with partners to investigate the impacts of the UK water footprint in developing countries. We traced the rapid decline of groundwater levels in the Ica Valley in Peru, one of the driest places on earth, to consumption associated with horticultural exports.  We highlighted how the sourcing and purchasing practices of supermarkets and the failure of market standards directly contributed to severe impacts for some of the poorest people in South America.  Making front page news in the UK, our work led to a stepping up of interest, action and investment on corporate water risk management

The International Water Stewardship Standard and Alliance for Water Stewardship

Water Witness International was the first to promote the concept of an international standard for sustainable water use.  In 2009 we joined forces with WWF, the Pacific Institute and others as founding members of the Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS). Since then, the AWS has shepherded a global process of multi-stakeholder dialogue and piloting to develop the world’s first Water Stewardship Standard.  The Standard guides any water user anywhere in the world towards responsible use and collective action on water risks, and through third party certification can differentiate and reward these responsible users in the market place. 

We have played a pivotal role in this work, as Technical Chair, leading the field testing process, ensuring a social equity focus and championing the value for developing countries.  As the AWS transitions to a global membership organisation our role has evolved.  We are now an accredited advisor and trainer on the standard, and are supporting and evaluating the first applications globally.

Ensuring principles and integrity in corporate water stewardship
Involving private sector entities in the management of a public resource like water carries ethical, political and practical risks.  Since 2010 we have worked with the CEO Water Mandate, an initiative of the UN to ensure that private sector engagement is undertaken with integrity, and that it delivers genuine and equitable societal benefits. In 2011 we co-authored the ‘Guide to responsible business engagement with water policy’. In 2013 we led a global review of water stewardship initiatives to co-produce the ‘Guide for managing integrity in water stewardship initiatives’. These documents stand as primary references for private sector engagement on water.

Shaping stewardship and knowledge brokering
The conceptual groundings and evidence base on corporate water stewardship are still evolving.  To provoke research, critical thinking and knowledge transfer we initiated a special edition of research on the topic in the noted academic journal Water Alternatives. We continue to lead thought and action through contributions in books, conferences and formation of an international research network. We provide advice to companies such as Danone, Olam International, SAB Miller, Diageo and Marks and Spencers, to international NGOs including WaterAid, WWF and IUCN, and governments and donor agencies including DFID and GiZ. 


What our stakeholders say:

Many congratulations on your publication on corporate engagement. It is a nice amalgam of comment and critique… good to see that there are scientists working on the topic. The publication is something of a landmark contribution. Well done.
— Professor Tony Allan, King’s College London, Stockholm Water Prize Laureate
Water Witness International provided facilitation, reporting, and much more through their in-depth knowledge and viewpoint. This transparent and thought provoking collaboration has provided a critical perspective on the management of water resources.
— Dr James Dalton, Coordinator Global Water Programme, International Union for the Conservation of Nature
We are delighted with the outcomes of this work by Water Witness International and the universally positive feedback we have received from our suppliers and project stakeholders. There is a clear recognition that the AWS standard has the potential to make a positive impact not only in Kenya but globally.
— Louise Nicholls, Head of Responsible Sourcing, Marks and Spencer
Through this work we now understand what the Alliance for Water Stewardship standard is about. It is clear that it will help us implement IWRM and our National Water Policy. It has our full support.
— Philip Olum, CEO, Kenya Water Resource Management Authority
It has been a pleasure working with Water Witness International on this project. I wish they were all this straightforward and well managed and I hope the opportunity arises to work closely again in future.
— Robin Farrington, Senior Advisor, Development Partnerships with the Private Sector – Africa, GIZ

Our future plans

In the next five years we will use stewardship as a vehicle to advance sustainable water management in water stressed and governance challenged basins and globally, and ensure that the outcomes of corporate engagement on water are pro-poor and equitable.   We will:

·         Lead and facilitate research to highlight and communicate the impacts of poor corporate performance on water

·         Assist civil society partners globally to fulfil key roles around the water stewardship agenda

·         Train, guide and advise companies, NGOs and government on water stewardship

·         Implement, evaluate and evolve the AWS system to improve performance and uptake

·         Lead conceptual development and evidence generation around stewardship through high quality field research and analysis

·         With partners incentivise stewardship through the ranking of corporate performance on water