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Chris Wolf
Insights 22 Aug 2012

Water for Business Version 3 – Guiding Sustainable Water Management

By Chris Wolf

In 2009, WBCSD and IUCN released Water for Business – the first online guide specifically designed to help businesses manage water more sustainably by providing them with an overview of water tools and initiatives which they can use or engage with.

The third edition is now out and was developed in collaboration with SustainAbility and IUCN. The guide recognizes that one initiative alone will not satisfy the needs of every business, local community or stakeholder group. It outlines the benefits of the different tools available and illustrates how a combination of complementary tools can best meet wide ranging needs.

Water risks are increasingly capturing the attention of large institutional investors, and stakeholder concerns and expectations of corporate water management practices are high. Among others, business will have to address the following challenging questions:

  • Where are the internal and supply chain “hot spots” that may be vulnerable to business interruption, or a significant increase in cost?
  • What are the water needs and vulnerabilities of the local communities in which they operate?
  • What are the regulatory/political climates across key geographies?
  • How can they work collaboratively with local stakeholders to develop and execute strategies, which ensure water availability over the long term?
  • What level of performance constitutes leading practice in water management?

The global business community increasingly recognizes and has begun to address these water challenges. Despite the growing awareness, however, a lot of work remains ahead of us.

Overcoming the looming water crises will require more effective guidance to scale up collaborative solutions across watersheds including strengthened local governance.

Purpose and scope of the guide

The purpose is to help businesses and key stakeholders identify water tools and initiatives that will best meet their specific needs, and ensure the sustainability of our water resources. More specifically, it aims to:

  • Provide an overview of water initiatives, so that readers understand “who is doing what”;
  • Develop a common language for business on water and sustainability;
  • Facilitate business engagement in relevant initiatives and uptake of tools accelerating action;
  • Enable the identification of risks and opportunities, gaps and complementarities;
  • Help water tool developers increase their impact through consensus building and joint action.


This report is organized into four main sections:

  • Key messages: conclusions and lessons learned from updating the Water for Business guide.
  • Understanding water management: summaries of the five stages of water management, and the key functions within a corporation where information about water management is becoming more relevant. For each stage and function, it recommends various tools that can be used to enhance sustainable water management practices.
  • Initiative factsheets: overviews of specific water initiatives, enabling businesses to compare and contrast them as effectively as possible, and to find out where to go for more information. The scope of this report is by no means exhaustive.
  • Glossary: key terms and definitions in the area of water management.

Key Issues

  • We rely on water to grow our food, produce our goods, and generate our energy. “Business has a leading role to play in the management of natural resources, especially in the use of freshwater resources, for which there exists no substitute,” says James Dalton, Coordinator, Global Initiatives, IUCN Global Water Programme. “The Water for Business guide can support businesses to find their way in tools aimed at managing water in a more equitable and effective manner, in the interest of companies’ performance, balanced with growing population demands and healthy ecosystems.”
  • Businesses need to have frameworks within which they can measure, manage and assess their impacts, especially those moving into emerging markets. “This is an essential guide for business, especially when you consider that 80 percent of the global population now lives in areas where the threat to water security is high,” says Joppe Cramwinckel, Director, World Business Council for Sustainable Development Water. “That, coupled with the spread of industrial and agricultural activity, is putting additional stress on local aquifers.”
  • Water is becoming an increasingly precious resource for businesses across sectors and around the world. “Managing water effectively—both within and beyond the facility fence line—is essential to ensuring that both businesses and communities prosper long into the future,” says Jeff Erikson, Senior VP at SustainAbility. “Water for Business can help business leaders sort through the myriad of tools and resources available, and select the ones that are most useful for their individual situation.”

Download the full report below or visit the dedicated section on WBCSD website.




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