Sustainable water management reaches top of global business agenda

The future of many businesses depend on the sustainability of water resources, which are increasingly under pressure. Consumer awareness and investors' increased scrutiny of corporate water risks have resulted in stronger expectations that companies should reveal their ‘water performance'.

Water Programme

"Water quality and its sustainable use is an urgent global problem. There is a pressing need for clear principles and tools for achieving and demonstrating progress towards sustainable water management,” said Anne-Léonore Boffi at the launch of a new report “Water for Business: Initiatives Guiding Sustainable Water Management in the Private Sector”, jointly developed by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

“Many initiatives have emerged around sustainable water management for business. This is a positive signal that water is moving up the corporate agenda. We aim to help companies identify which initiative will best suit their needs,” said James Griffiths, managing director of Sustainable Forest Products, Water and Ecosystems at the WBCSD.

The new report identified 16 initiatives or tools, driven by business leaders, civil society and governments, which have emerged since 2006. It includes the WBCSD Global Water Tool, which helps companies map their water use and assess water risks and opportunities across their global operations.
Water for Business is not an exhaustive overview; it tries to concisely capture business-relevant initiatives that are addressing the challenge of better defining sustainable water management. These can be through different approaches, including guidelines, tools, measurement methodologies, and communication and stewardship schemes.

The report includes a glossary of water terms separated into broadly used and understood terms, terms linked to specific initiatives and finally terms that are currently not well defined or are controversial. “In dealing with water it is important that stakeholders communicate clearly and effectively, using a common language to affect real changes in water management and to support credible reporting”, said Paul Wiegand, from the National Council for Air and Stream Improvement (NCASI), which helped prepare the glossary section.

This guide is aimed at helping business identify which initiatives and approaches will most suit its needs, and to help developers of schemes understand opportunities for increasing impact through consensus building and joint action. “There is a real opportunity now for business and advocates of sustainable development to work together, to accelerate learning and action that will help in responding effectively to water challenges around the world,” said Mark Smith, head of IUCN's Water Programme.

The information in this report is organized around three main sections:
• A matrix characterizing the initiatives and tools in terms of the main issue of concern, geographic focus, leading agent and multi-stakeholder approach.
• Factsheets summarizing the individual initiatives and enabling comparison.
• A companion glossary of key terms and definitions in the area of water management, together with key references used.
The main issues of concern have been divided into three categories:
• Tools that support the identification of risks and opportunities related to water use and impacts.
• Initiatives and tools that aim to help business (and other organizations) measure water use and assess water-related impacts.
• Approaches to developing response options, addressing questions such as how to report, what to disclose and how to recognize responsible water managers through certification schemes.

“We have selected these categories because we believe that they constitute a logical sequence: from understanding risks to accounting for water use and assessing impacts and then exploring how to respond”, said Mark Smith from IUCN.

IUCN and WBCSD are committed to updating this overview as initiatives mature and progress, or new ones emerge. This report should be seen as a “living document” and will be kept in an electronic format.


• Anne-Léonore Boffi, Assistant Project Manager, Water, WBCSD, E-mail: [email protected]
• Mark Smith, Head, Water Programme, IUCN, E-mail: [email protected]
• Paul Wiegand, Vice President - Water Quality, NCASI, E-mail: [email protected]

Media Inquiries
• Moira O'Brien-Malone, Communications and Media Relations, WBCSD, Mobile: +41 79 377 7958
E-mail: [email protected]
• Claire Warmenbol, Communications, IUCN Water Programme, Mobile: +41 79 404 1973
E-mail: [email protected]

Work area: 
North America
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