© Jonathan Roger
How we work with business
WWF has a long history of working constructively with businesses and this is primarily done to help advance the mission of WWF to stop the degradation of the earth’s natural environment and build a future where human live in harmony with nature. Through these partnerships, WWF supports businesses in their sustainability journey based on scientific knowledge, field presence and communications capacity. WWF actively engages the most impactful and influential sectors on the most material issues in order to create systemic changes. WWF collaborates with businesses that share the same high standards for the environment, sustainability and human rights, and are committed to those through their actions.
Types of engagements we do

There are 3 ways in which WWF partners with business, namely: 

  • PHILANTHROPIC: Funding from businesses used directly to pursue WWF conservation priorities
  • MARKETING: Funding from businesses used to branding and joint communications/marketing and sometimes specific education
  • TRANSFORMATIONAL: Funding from businesses used to pursue work that reduces negative impacts and/or increase positive impacts in corporate value chains

Of these forms of engagement, our water stewardship work is most heavily focused on the third one - transformational. As work with companies on their practices, WWF works to gradually ratchet up performance, recognizing that indeed, water stewardship is a journey. We characterize that journey into three general stages:


Water Stewardship Ladder

The WWF Water Stewardship ladder was designed to illustrate the journey companies tend to make with water over time. It was not intended to be a checklist but a depiction of the evolving nature of corporate water management through to water stewardship. The journey is iterative, not linear, with companies maturing practices based on their unique context. 

More recently, we have sought to simplify the ladder into three phases: (A) Initial starting practices describe a level of action more closely resembling traditional water management, (B) standard good practices are intended to describe a level of action where stewardship and management are blended, and lastly (C) leading practices represent full stewardship.


The WWF Business Transformation Framework

To offer a clear outline of what we expect of our partners, WWF has developed a Business Transformation Framework. This framework not only helps to standardize engagement with companies on water stewardship, but clearly articulates key steps that frame WWF’s asks and our offers. The four steps: Assess, Embed, Implement & Advocate, and the sub-steps (e.g., Materiality & Traceability), offer a flexible pathway that can account for any company’s stage of their journey. This foundational framework guides how WWF evaluates corporate sustainability, informs our requests, and catalogs WWF's biodiversity and water stewardship offers, serving as a basis for diverse activities in partnerships with corporate partners worldwide across all sectors.


Phases model

Addressing freshwater challenges requires collaborative efforts beyond individual company actions. WWF advocates for pre-competitive collaboration, urging companies to work collectively with others, including NGOs and public sector bodies. Consistent with the need to scale impact, over time, WWF generally seeks to transition our corporate partnerships from more internal, bilateral engagements to more external, multilateral collective actions. These phases tend to mirror the general steps outlined in the Stewardship Ladder helping to strengthen a partners' understanding of their business's connection to nature, develop strategies for more impactful actions, and ultimately scale up investments in their value chain and surrounding landscapes with others.

Collective action

Water, as a shared resource, can only be solved together. Companies must recognise that working with others and at various scales (global fora to local water groups) is a foundational element of a robust water stewardship strategy. We define collective action as “a coordinated set of engagements among interested parties aimed at pooling resources to address shared freshwater challenges within a basin”. In the face of a deep loss of freshwater biodiversity and an ongoing rise in shared water challenges, there is an urgent need for improved collaboration across sectors to address water challenges. 

Collective action requires trust, inclusivity, and diverse partnerships across sectors for water security and climate resilience. As such, our ability to co-develop community level engagements, combined with the trust that our global brand can enable to foster collaboration, gives WWF a unique responsibility and opportunity to advance collective action on freshwater. Increasingly, this will be where WWF focuses our energy to scale impact. From basin to basin, we will adopt different roles, depending on needs and the presence of peer organizations.

© Simon de TREY-WHITE / WWF-UK

For companies, collective action takes various forms and requires tailored approaches. Examples include participation in public fora to address water governance, support for freshwater conservation projects in watersheds of importance to company operations, and engaging in capacity building (e.g., training or the provision of financial resources) to conserve freshwater resources and drive investments in supply chains. 

WWF is leading the way to foster collaboration between companies, with public sector agencies, and critically, within civil society (including at the NGO level). We work at the global level with industry groups all the way to ground level programs in basins to foster stronger, scalable solutions to the shared challenges facing our planet’s freshwater ecosystems.