A matter of evolution
Can you manage what you are not measuring? We don’t think so. And as a growing number of companies now report water related risks and opportunities to CDP - the evolution of how corporate water targets are set and measured is inevitable.
Close to 1,500 companies reported critical water related information via CDP in 2016, of these however, only 25 companies were awarded CDP’s ‘A’ grade – highlighting leadership in corporate water stewardship. As more and more companies participate in CDP’s global system of environmental disclosure, it is critical that their performance continues to improve and evolve.
The quality of disclosure is already changing. Last year’s Global Water Report showed that 17 percent of responding companies are starting to factor a growing range of contextual issues into their water risk assessments, including local communities or other local water users for the very first time. A further 66% of companies recognize opportunities. However only half (54%) of companies globally are currently setting targets and goals. More worrying, it is not clear how effective the goals that are being are at reducing water risk or the companies impact on the environment.
As global water stress continues to rise, with reports of rivers vanishing in Canada and companies start taking real action, such as reusing or recycling precious water resources, how can companies ensure that their water targets align with meaningful outcomes?
Putting it into context
CDP, the UN’s CEO Water Mandate, The Nature Conservancy (TNC), World Resources Institute (WRI), and WWF have recently worked together on an innovative approach to setting corporate water targets. ‘Context-based’ water targets are those that ensure corporate efforts to manage water resources will not only meet the needs of the basins in which they operate, but will truly address local challenges and needs. Such targets are not only necessary for protecting water resources—they also make sound business sense.
Companies are increasingly engaging with governments and other stakeholders in their basins to address shared challenges, but linking their water use to a given basin’s water context remains a challenge. As a result, water stewardship activities do not fully account for basins’ specific needs or address the root cause of water challenges.
A context-based water target will align different stakeholders and is critical for positive outcome. It should be a specific time-bound objective that includes both the company’s water performance and speaks to the water basin’s conditions. Context-based water targets better inform audiences on the extent to which performance respects the agreed upon thresholds of the basin or supports public policy.
A local solution to a global problem
The reasoning behind the group’s call for ‘context-based targets’ is that water issues are primarily local—each basin has unique challenges that need to be considered when managing water resources. Corporate targets, therefore, should address these site-specific concerns, and include input from local stakeholders. We recommend the development of context-based targets that make use of the best available science, are informed by contextual social needs, and align with local and global public policy objectives such as the Sustainable Development Goals.
In ‘Exploring the case for corporate context-based water targets’ we put forward a case for corporate context-based water targets—but it is only the start of the project. The group invites interested organizations and practitioners to contact us to learn more about this initiative and join us in developing a common approach towards developing these targets. By consulting with those who set water targets, we will then develop guidance for companies to employ meaningful and appropriate water metrics and targets to tackle their own and shared water challenges.