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Business Engagement with Water Policy

Many water-related business risks stem from ineffective or non-existent public water policy and management. These risks are much more difficult to address than those associated with internal business practice since companies have limited influence in public water governance and decision making. Policy engagement provides an avenue through which companies can take action and contribute resources and expertise to facilitate sustainable water management in the watersheds in which they operate. The UN CEO Water Mandate’s Guide to Responsible Business Engagement with Water Policy provides a detailed description of why companies pursue policy engagement and offers practical guidance on how they can implement it.

Corporate engagement with public policy has traditionally been understood as direct policy advocacy and lobbying. However, engagement can be understood more broadly as all interactions with government entities, local communities, and/or civil society organizations that have the goal of advancing two objectives: the responsible internal company management of water resources within direct operations and supply chains in line with policy imperatives (i.e., legal compliance) and the sustainable and equitable management of the catchment in which companies operate.

Policy engagement is built around the premise that the external catchment conditions that create risk for companies also create risk for other actors in that catchment. Indeed, communities, the environment, customers and suppliers, as well as government are all exposed to risk due to common problems such as water scarcity, pollution, aging infrastructure, floods, droughts, and climate change. Collaborative efforts between different sectors can help ensure that water resources are managed sustainably and equitably. That said, companies engaging with public water policy must pay special attention to stakeholder concerns of policy capture (i.e., unduly influencing water policy such that the public interest is undermined in favor of corporate interests) due to a long history of the private sector manipulating political processes.

Companies responsibly engaging with governments and other stakeholders to advance sustainable water policies and management practices take a variety of approaches, including:

  • Encouraging efficient water use across a catchment;
  • Contributing to the development of effective and equitable policy and regulations;
  • Supporting research, advocacy, and monitoring;
  • Aiding environmentally and socially responsible infrastructure development;
  • Advancing public awareness of water resource issues;
  • Working with communities to remedy or prevent water resource problems.

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