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Water Stewardship
WWF’s water stewardship vision: Measurably improve river basin status by radically scaling up private sector collaboration, boardroom strategy and investments.

At WWF, water stewardship is all about how we work with companies to scale positive impacts on nature and water. The term itself, water stewardship, is defined by the Alliance for Water Stewardship as the use of water that is socially and culturally equitable, environmentally sustainable and economically beneficial, achieved through a stakeholder-inclusive process that involves site-and catchment-based actions. Critically, we find ourselves in a world where the water ecosystems, that regulate the flow and quality of water and upon which business depends, have been heavily degraded through human use and are being placed under further pressure by a changing climate. For businesses and their shareholders, this means not only an uncertain operating environment in terms of physical risks such as locally accessing quantities and quality of water, but also growing risks to their reputation and uncertain regulation. Similarly, for other stakeholders in basins, including communities and nature, these challenges pose a potential existential threat.

Yet with water stewardship we all have the potential to embrace a concept that can not only embed climate resilience in businesses and their value chains, but moreover offers an opportunity to create value for all.


Water Risk & Opportunity

The concept of risk is a framing that is well understood within the business and investor community. It has, and continues to be, an effective on ramp for companies on their water stewardship journey. As water risk exposure continues to grow, WWF continues to rise to the challenge through continual enhancements of its Risk Filter Suite - a leading tool that supports businesses and enables them to understand their water, biodiversity and climate risks.

The history of water stewardship at WWF

For over two decades, WWF pioneered the concept of water stewardship. We helped to coin the term and have worked with businesses to not simply lower their water usage, but to reshape their thinking when it comes to the roles of businesses in catchments and our freshwater ecosystems. As we have helped to grow the water stewardship community, the pathway has been made up of shifting phases each with their own zeitgeist.

Our most recent reflection has prompted a renewed focus on doing better collectively through scaling and impacts. Our freshwater ecosystems, down over 83% since 1970, are in a state of emergency and we need to act swiftly and at scale. This means fostering community growth, and driving a shift from individual efforts to a more multilateral, ecosystem or landscape-based approach. WWF also recognizes that philanthropy and single-organizational approaches alone will not get us to that scale and accordingly, aims to lead in scaling investments in basins to an array of solution providers in order to meet the needs of freshwater ecosystems, essential for all life on Earth.

WWF’s Water Stewardship Vision and Strategy

WWF’s vision for the organization’s work on water stewardship is intended to guide WWF’s offices and encourage greater coherence in our work. It will act as a lighthouse, which WWF offices can use to navigate the water stewardship seas and not as a replacement for the boats and crews (our offices and staff). Achieving this will enable WWF to better support the wider external water stewardship community scale its impacts. Our vision is:

Measurably improve river basin status by radically scaling up private sector collaboration, boardroom strategy and investments.

To achieve this vision, WWF is embracing a new business transformation framework while also shifting its own practices in three ways:


  1. From reactive to proactive: WWF aims to become more proactive in our water stewardship efforts by initiating partnerships with key sectors and companies that have a disproportionate impact and influence on water. This is all about targeting those sectors and companies that are most critical to achieve our goal.
  2. From bilateral to multilateral: WWF's Water Stewardship network aims to prioritize and champion the establishment of multilateral collective actions within and across river basins, starting with an intentional internal focus to transition partnerships from being bilateral to ones that are more multilateral in nature in later phases of partnerships. This is about enhancing scale of impact, while respecting our capacity constraints.
  3. From siloed to networked: WWF's Water Stewardship network aims to enhance internal collaborations across issue areas and support partners to develop and adopt more systems-inspired corporate strategies to deliver greater impacts for nature. This is about embracing the fact that to solve water, we must embrace its links to climate and biodiversity.


If you have any questions – please reach out to Alexis Morgan (Global Water Stewardship Lead) or Rylan Dobson (Senior Water Stewardship Manager) at waterstewardship@wwfint.org