How stakeholder research can help businesses leverage water for peace: World Water Day 2024

March 2024, by Ben Davis

World Water Day, marked annually on March 22nd, help to highlight the vital role of freshwater in sustaining life and fostering global development.

With 2.2 billion people lacking access to safe water worldwide, the imperative to address the global water crisis is clear. In line with Sustainable Development Goal 6, World Water Day 2024 focuses on “Leveraging Water for Peace,” highlighting water’s pivotal role in promoting peace, stability, and cooperation among individuals, businesses, industries and nations. While this may initially seem like an issue for global leaders, this article explores how vital it is for businesses to step up and ensure they responsibly use water sources, protecting them against pollution and over-extraction whilst being transparent with all stakeholders in the decision-making process for water use.

Understanding how businesses can exacerbate water conflicts:

Water scarcity and mismanagement have long been recognised as underlying factors contributing to conflicts and tensions globally. Competing demands for limited water resources exacerbate social, economic, and political inequalities, often leading to access, distribution, and control disputes. From textile pollution along River in Indonesia to oil spills in the Niger Delta to the over-extraction of water from businesses in California, businesses are at the heart of water-related issues and must consider all stakeholders, not just their shareholders, in decisions regarding the resource.

Closer to home, we have seen brewing companies extracting huge quantities of groundwater, vast agricultural and industrial runoff, and let’s not forget the water companies that are discharging sewage throughout the UK. Whilst these cases may not necessarily lead to the typical conflicts you may think off, the main conflicts arise within stakeholder groups and can result in long legal battles, exposure of the situation through civil society pathways and ultimately can destroy the reputation of businesses and the livelihoods of people who would otherwise rely on the water sources.

How business can harness water for peace:

Businesses are responsible for ensuring equitable access to water and sanitation services for all, and must lead by example and advocate for the necessary change. This means businesses have a responsibility to be an example to their customers to transparently report on their water-related impact, and a responsibility to use their status to advocate for policy reforms on an industry and even national level. As the topic of water security and pollution becomes ever more prominent, ethical consumers are seeking to support businesses that show that are actively leading positive change and helping to tackle the vast water related issues we face today.

World Water Day 2024 presents businesses with the perfect opportunity to reframe water as a source of collaboration rather than contention, and gives them a platform to state their commitment to driving change. So, what can businesses do to ensure they are leading change and help to harness water for peace?

The role of market research:

In an age where environmental organisations, civil society and journalist shed light on business activities and their environmental impact, businesses face significant operational and reputational risks if they do not comply with regulations or are seen to use resources irresponsibly.

As I have demonstrated earlier in the article, and with the results of our most recent Say Do Sustainability Study, water related issues are front of mind for consumers and water conflicts are a major area whereby businesses slip up and can often face major disputes with stakeholders who share interests or rely on the same water source.

So, understanding all stakeholder views in the decision making process of a business, especially regarding shared resources is a must. Market research can be used to conduct essential stakeholder research, helping these businesses understand the root causes of water-related conflicts and developing effective ESG strategies through materiality assessments to mitigate risks.

Stakeholder research is essential for businesses to ensure inclusivity and equity in water governance, giving all parties an equal platform to voice concerns in the decision-making process. It will also help businesses identify areas of intervention and tailor their strategies to maximise positive outcomes, helping them to effectively manage the water resources they use and withhold their reputation.

With this approach, businesses help lead and contribute to the sustainable development of regions and the protection of water resources, acting as a mediator in any disputes by using data-driven insights to help inform decisions.

Therefore, market research helps businesses enhance their social impact and reputation through corporate water stewardship, responsible water management practices, and partnerships with local communities to offer practical solutions and ensure cooperation and peace in water-stressed regions.

Our message:

By leveraging water as a catalyst for cooperation and collaboration, businesses can drive positive change and create shared value for people and the planet, not just profit.

However, given water’s importance, it is essential that businesses consider all stakeholders when discussing water-related issues. Stakeholder research plays a crucial role in informing business strategies, identifying opportunities for intervention, and maximising impact of ESG strategies. Here at MM-Eye reaffirm our commitment to leveraging water for peace through our stakeholder research and materiality assessment.

In light of World Water Day, we hope to have brought awareness to the unique opportunity businesses have to contribute to sustainable development, and building a more inclusive, equitable, and water-secure world for all.

If you would like to know more about stakeholder research and materiality assessments please schedule a meeting with the team using the calendar below!