The Finnish water stewardship commitment challenges companies to assess water risks in their value chains and to engage in collective action to develop sustainable water use and governance. The commitment links directly to national SDG implementation and engages public sector, academia and NGOs alike. The Commitment was founded by Finnish research institutes, ministries and WWF Finland in 2017 and has gained signatories from major Finnish companies and key water using sectors. The aim of the commitment is to make Finnish companies the most responsible water stewards in the world by 2030.
Companies and their value chains are among the largest water users in the world. Global water challenges like water scarcity and pollution pose growing risks to business, but companies may also have a central role in solving them.
Even though the state of water resources in Finland and the state of water management and governance are predominantly good, Finnish companies operate and their value chains extend also to areas suffering from different kinds of water related problems.
The water stewardship commitment challenges Finnish companies and organizations to assess water risks in their value chains, to take care of sustainability of water use at their own and their value chains’ operation locations, and to engage in collective action with stakeholders to develop sustainable water use and governance.
Water stewardship means water use that is socially equitable, environmentally sustainable and economically beneficial, achieved through a stakeholder-inclusive process that includes both site- and catchment-based actions. Stewardship is about taking care of something one doesn’t own and built on continuous improvement.
The Commitment draws together the best tools and international guidelines for five steps of water stewardship progression:
1. water risk assessment
2. water strategy development
3. water impact assessment and mitigation
4. collective action
5. monitoring, evaluation and reporting
The commitment is supportive of the UN Global Compact CEO Water Mandate -initiative and the Business Alliance for Water and Climate –commitment. What makes it unique internationally is that the commitment is part of the Society's Commitment to Sustainable Development, which is the national framework and key instrument for implementing the UN Agenda 2030 in Finland.
With the help of the commitment, companies can manage their water risks in a systematic manner and ensure their water use and water related actions are aligned with the UN SDGs. Water stewardship action is especially relevant for Goal 6, which aims to ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all. Water stewardship is connected to all the goals, however, including promoting inclusive and sustainable industrialization and fostering innovations (Goal 9) and responsible consumption and production (Goal 12). It is a pre-requisite for food security (Goal 2) and climate change mitigation and adaptation (Goal 13) and it affects the state of water and land ecosystems alike (Goals 14 and 15). Above all, water stewardship is built on collaboration and partnerships (Goal 17).
The commitment was founded by Aalto University, Natural Resources Institute Finland, VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, Ministry of the Environment and WWF Finland in 2017 and is supported by Ministry for Foreign Affairs. Five major Finnish companies and two industry associations have signed the commitment to date and it is gaining growing interest.
Beneficiaries: companies, employees, communities and ecosystems along company value chains. Implementers: companies from key water-using sectors supported by research institutions and WWF Finland. Partners: Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, Ministry of the Environment and Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Other stakeholders: Finnish sustainable business associations, Secretariat of the Finnish National Commission on Sustainable Development, The Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra; WWF-International, Alliance for Water Stewardship, CDP, CEO Water Mandate. The commitment has been awarded for facilitating cross-sectoral collaboration by Finnish Prime Minister’s office and the Finnish NGDO Platform. It is one of Finland’s initiatives to UN Water Action Decade 2018-2028.
The implementation of the Finnish water stewardship commitment has been supported by company and industry association consultations, several workshops, launch events and public dissemination and awareness raising events on water stewardship in 2017-2019. Research and development projects focusing on key challenges of company water use and water stewardship action are currently being planned. International contacts have been established and co-operation has been agreed with the UN Global Compact's CEO Water mandate, WWF International, CDP Water Program and the Alliance for Water Stewardship.
Water stewardship has been listed as one of the targets of Finland’s international water strategy updated in 2018 and water stewardship commitments are one means of its implementation.
To further scale up the commitment and water stewardship action, a roadmap aiming to make the Finnish companies the most responsible water stewards in the world by 2030 has been drafted in 2018-2019 with a multi-stakeholder working group initially involving Aalto University, Natural Resources Institute Finland, VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, Ministry of the Environment and Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as well as WWF Finland, The Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra and the Finnish Sustainable Business Association Fibs ry. The roadmap defines four key target areas with supporting implementation plan: 1) Finnish companies commit to water stewardship 2) Water stewardship and water stewardship commitment have a permanent coordination body in Finland 3) Water stewardship is one of the focus areas in research and education nationally 4) Water stewardship is a cross-cutting theme in Finland’s national and internationally advanced policies. The roadmap has been discussed in a public seminar in 2018 and will be opened for wider public consultation in 2019. Its links to national strategies on bioeconomy and circular economy are also currently being strengthened.
The roadmap with its annual implementation plan will be the key mechanism for monitoring the development of water stewardship action in Finland. In addition, water stewardship commitment signatories are obliged to report on their progress annually via the Society’s Commitment to Sustainable Development website.
Five companies (Finlayson, Fazer Group, UPM, Sinebrychoff, Stora Enso) and two industry associations (Forest Industry Association and The Central Union of Agricultural Producers and Forest Owners) have made a water stewardship commitment to date. These companies are among the biggest actors in the textile-, food-, forest- and beverage industry in Finland. Further, several new company commitments are on the way and water stewardship has been welcomed with interest by the Federation of the Brewing and Soft Drinks Industry, Finnish Textile and Fashion Association, Forest Industry Association and the Finnish Food Industry Association.
The workshops and launch events organized have been open to all stakeholders and facilitated to encourage broad participation. Special effort has been put on public awareness raising on water stewardship with talks, blog posts and interviews and the commitment has frequently featured in the Finnish media. The communications have also been linked to consumer awareness raising on water footprints and sustainable water consumption.
Water stewardship has been included as a target in the Finland’s international water strategy extending its scope to a broad range of actors beyond the traditional water sector. The strategy is signed by Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment, Ministry of the Environment, Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Social Affairs and Health.
In order to ensure that private sector engagement on water is constructive and sustainable and just water use is secured for all, private sector collaboration with public sector, academia and NGOs has been emphasized. A national collaboration network and platform with links to international actors is currently being built.
Longer term impacts on the ground are expected to materialize along the company value chains as a result of their improved water related practices and are expected by 2030.
The model of Finnish water stewardship commitment is easily replicable in other national, local, regional or international contexts. It has been started as a voluntary initiative built on international best practice and has been welcomed as a fresh and innovative way to encourage company and multi-stakeholder action
Project got financing from the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry and WWF Finland
Water stewardship is built on environmentally, socially and economically sustainable water use which practices are developed in multi-stakeholder collaboration. Water problems like water scarcity, pollution and deterioration of water ecosystems pose threats to communities and the environment and a risk to business. Water is the main medium through which the impacts of climate change are and will be felt. Water stewardship action is thus one of the key areas for climate change adaptation, strengthening ecosystem and community resilience and enabling sustainable business. The Finnish water stewardship commitment emphasizes that taking precautionary water related action saves not only money but also lives, presenting a strong business case to adopt water in the strategic core of business and public policies alike.
By linking water stewardship to the national SDG implementation framework, Finland’s international water strategy and by building a roadmap visioning Finnish companies as the most responsible water stewards in the world by 2030, the commitment project is aiming to ensure broad uptake, longevity and sustained impact.
The model of Finnish water stewardship commitment is easily replicable in other national, local, regional or international contexts. It has been started as a voluntary initiative built on international best practice and has been welcomed as a fresh and innovative way to encourage company and multi-stakeholder action. The commitment has been presented in international conferences and UN HLPF on Sustainable Development in New York in 2018 where it aroused positive interest.
The Finnish water stewardship commitment provides for the first time a common framework for Finnish companies to assess and develop sustainability and responsibility of their water use throughout their operations and value chains. The commitment brings together the best international tools and guidelines for taking water stewardship action and supporting the UN SDGs. Its implementation is supported by public sector, academia and NGOs alike. The commitment has been welcomed and rewarded as a new innovative way to accelerate collective action on water. Publicly committing to sustainable water use is good PR for business but also ensures action is taken that supports sustainable water use for all.
Finland is renowned worldwide for the ability to create cross-sectoral and multi-stakeholder approaches to sustainable development. The water stewardship commitment is an excellent example of the wide-ranging commitment of Finnish players to solving global challenges.
The Finnish water stewardship commitment
A poster presentation on the Finnish Water Stewardship Commitment in the 1st International Conference on Water Security, 17.-20.6.2018, Toronto.
Water stewardship commitment by Fazer group
Water stewardship commitment by Finlayson
Water stewardship commitment by UPM
Water stewardship commitment by Sinebrychoff
Water stewardship commitment by Stora Enso
Water stewardship commitment by the Central Union of Agricultural Producers and Forest Owners (MTK)
Water stewardship commitment by Finnish Forest Industries (as a part of wider commitment)
Interview on water stewardship in Finland
Finland’s international water strategy
Country page of Finland in the UN Water Action Decade 2018-2028 website