Navigating Water Governance: Insights from Isabela Espindola on T3 Talks

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Join us in an insightful interview with Isabela Espindola, a leading expert in water policy and governance, as she delves into the intricacies of responsible water stewardship, geopolitical trends, potential breakthroughs in water security, and combating greenwashing.

Isabela defines responsible water stewardship as the socially equitable, environmentally sustainable, and economically beneficial use of water, sharing successful initiatives like the Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS).

She highlights the impact of high-stakes elections in 2024 on water policy, particularly in major emitting countries such as the US, India, Indonesia, Russia, and the EU. 

Additionally, Isabela explores potential breakthroughs in water security through technological advancements like water recycling, policy-driven interventions such as integrated water resource management, and collaborative efforts among governments, civil society, academia, and the private sector.

Lastly, she discusses how empowered citizens can combat greenwashing by demanding transparency and accountability, utilizing shareholder activism, consumer boycotts, and grassroots campaigns to drive impactful change.

Dive into the full interview to uncover these critical insights.

Isabela Espindola

Gwendoline Grollier (GG): T3 Partner in Risk & Regulation

Isabela Espindola [IE]: Senior Officer,  Water Policy & Governance Expert, Stakeholder Engagement enthusiast, Academic and T3 advisor


GG: Welcome everyone to T3 Talks! Today, we have the privilege of speaking with one of our esteemed new advisors, Isabela Espindola. Isabela brings a unique blend of academic rigor, deep expertise in water policy, and a passion for integrating ESG principles into decision-making. As many of you know, T3 connects clients to experts like Isabela to decipher complex global challenges and navigate dynamic markets. Let’s dive right in!

Isabela, thank you very much for joining us today. I appreciate you taking the time to chat with us and share more about your journey, your background, and your expertise in water issues and water policy. Your passion for water issues is evident. Can you pinpoint a moment or experience that solidified this as your life’s work? Was there a specific observation that fuelled your determination to make a difference?

IE: Thank you, Gwen, for the question. It’s a really interesting one. Working with environmental issues, especially water, runs in the family. Both of my parents are environmental professionals, so this topic has been rooted in my upbringing. Since I was a child, water has been intertwined with my life, growing up in a family deeply immersed in academia and environmental advocacy. Raised in an environment of a Brazilian university campus, I was exposed to the world of science and exploration from a young age. I fondly recall my earliest memories of learning to use a microscope at the age of five, accompanying my parents on field trips, and immersing myself in the laboratory environment. Surrounded by students and lecturers, I was constantly inspired to expand my knowledge and embrace new challenges.

While there wasn’t a single defining moment, two experiences stand out. The first was during my master’s studies, where I delved into an analysis of the recognition of the human right to water across the member countries of UNASUR. Through this research, I gained insight into the diverse regulatory frameworks and policies governing water resources management, particularly in regions facing environmental challenges. The disparity among countries in recognizing access to safe drinking water as a fundamental human right was a notable finding. This realization underscored the complexity of transboundary water governance, especially in shared basins like the La Plata and Amazon river basins.

The second pivotal moment was during my tenure as a visiting Ph.D. researcher at the Department of Geography at King’s College London. Immersed in data analysis and academic research, I seized the opportunity to engage with youth-led environmental organizations, such as the Water Youth Network and the World Youth Parliament for Water. Advocating for youth empowerment and representation in international water governance forums broadened my network, honed my advocacy skills, and forged connections with influential organizations like the UN and the World Bank.


GG: That’s an inspiring journey, Isabela. I love how you bring your family background and your academic milestones into your work. Your experiences have clearly shaped your approach. How does your academic background in water resource policy inform the practical advice you provide to clients now?

IE: My academic background in international relations and environmental issues, with a focus on water resource policy, serves as the foundation for the practical advice I offer to clients. I prefer to refer to clients as stakeholders because I want to acknowledge their importance and involvement in matters related to environmental issues. By bridging the gap between academic research and real-world application, I leverage my expertise to drive meaningful change and foster sustainable water management practices.

Through rigorous academic studies, I gained a comprehensive understanding of water resources policy frameworks, including the complexities of transboundary water governance and the integration of environmental considerations into policy formulation. However, my approach extends beyond academic theory to prioritize practical, action-oriented solutions that empower citizens and communities to advocate for change. Drawing on my academic insights, I collaborate closely with stakeholders to develop tailored advocacy strategies that leverage evidence-based research, stakeholder engagement, and grassroots mobilization to drive policy reform and promote water security. By translating theoretical concepts into actionable recommendations, I help stakeholders navigate the intricacies of water resources management and cooperation, identify opportunities for citizen engagement, and amplify advocacy efforts on critical water issues.


GG: You often speak about ‘responsible water stewardship.’ Could you define ‘responsible water stewardship’ and share a success story of its implementation? Also, why is it crucial for businesses and governments?

IE: Yes, responsible water stewardship is a concept involving the management, governance, and conservation of water resources with a conscience to ensure their sustainable use for present and future generations. It means using water in a way that is socially equitable, environmentally sustainable, and economically beneficial. It entails efficient water use, protection of water quality, conservation of ecosystems, transparency and accountability, and a lot of community engagement.

One success story is the collaboration between Coca-Cola and WWF through their ‘Replenish Africa Initiative’ (RAIN). This initiative aims to improve access to clean water and sanitation for communities across Africa while also restoring watersheds and promoting water conservation. Through RAIN, Coca-Cola has invested in water infrastructure projects, benefiting millions of people in water-stressed regions. Additionally, the Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS) provides training, certification, and a universal framework for the sustainable use of water, driving good water stewardship performance globally.


GG: That’s a great example of how businesses can make a significant impact. Now, shifting gears to geopolitical trends – 2024 is an exceptional year with numerous high-stakes elections. You mentioned that 60% of the global population is called to vote this year, which is unprecedented. What are the implications of these elections, particularly in the realm of water policy?

IE: 2024 is indeed a significant year for global policy, especially concerning water management and related environmental issues. Major emitters like the US, India, Indonesia, Russia, and the European Union are going to the polls, representing one-third of the world’s population and a similar proportion of carbon emissions. The US election stands out for its potential to shape future climate policy and decarbonization efforts. India, the world’s second-most populous country, faces formidable water challenges, and the outcome of its election could profoundly shape policies concerning water conservation and sustainable irrigation practices.

The European Union (EU) Parliament elections also carry considerable weight in shaping water management and environmental policies worldwide. The EU plays a central role in coordinating global efforts to combat water scarcity, pollution, and climate change. A populist right coalition could hold a majority in the European Parliament for the first time, potentially steering the bloc’s environmental policy in a different direction.


GG: Despite the complexity, where do you see potential breakthroughs – technological, policy-driven, or collaborative – that give you optimism about water security?

IE: There are several areas where potential breakthroughs offer optimism. Technological advancements, such as innovative water recycling and desalination technologies, can help alleviate water scarcity. Digital water management platforms leveraging sensors, data analytics, and AI enable real-time monitoring and efficient resource allocation.

Policy-driven interventions are crucial for shaping water governance frameworks and promoting sustainable water management practices. Integrated water resource management (IWRM) approaches and transboundary water agreements facilitate collaboration among riparian states.

Collaborative efforts involving governments, civil society organizations, academia, and the private sector are essential for driving transformative change. Initiatives like the Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS) and the CEO Water Mandate promote collective action and knowledge sharing. Community-led initiatives empower local communities to play an active role in water management and conservation efforts.


GG: Thank you so much, Isabela, for your insights on water security. Clearly, navigating these murky waters requires crystal-clear communication. Beyond water security specifically, and given the rising concerns about greenwashing, how do you envision empowered citizens holding corporations accountable? Could they push beyond calling out greenwashing and drive truly impactful change?

IE: Effective communication is key. Empowered citizens can drive impactful change by demanding transparency and accountability from corporations. They can engage in shareholder activism, consumer boycotts, and grassroots campaigns to pressure corporations to adopt more sustainable business practices. Supporting responsible investment strategies, green certification programs, and corporate sustainability ratings incentivizes companies to prioritize environmental stewardship and social responsibility.


GG: Isabela, this has been a whirlwind tour and just a glimpse into the value you bring to T3! Your insights on the inseparable nature of water challenges, political shifts, and the urgency of sustainability are invaluable.

For our listeners eager to learn more about Isabela’s work or connect with T3’s advisory network, please visit us at

Thank you for joining us, and thank you, Isabela!