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Water Goal & Target Setting

CDP defines the distinction between water targets and goals in the following way.

  • Water Goals: water goal refers to a long-term qualitative outcome or a specific change in behavior or circumstance.
    • Ex: Reduced shared water challenges in water-stressed regions.
  • Water Targets: A water target refers to a specific, measurable output to be achieved within a specific timeline, often acting as steps toward a wider and long-term corporate goal.
    • Ex: Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS) certification for all sites located in water-stressed regions by 2030.


Setting water goals and targets allows for a company to both gauge progress against its strategic objectives and communicate to stakeholders what actions it is taking to address important water-related challenges. Appropriate water goals and targets work towards ensuring long-term business viability for operations and supply chains as well as the health and sustainability of the watersheds they are located in.


Water Goals

Water goals help set the strategic direction of a company’s water strategy. Setting goals helps define a clear vision of where a company aims to be in the future with their water stewardship efforts and allows for actionable targets to be created that measure progress towards a goal. While a number of companies have set ambitious water and sustainability goals, it’s worth noting that many of these goals are not achieved.  This is typically the result of multiple, competing goals stressing the internal capacity of a company. Therefore, it’s important that companies focus on setting fewer, more strategic water goals that have clear implementation roadmaps.

Water Targets

There are three categories of water targets: non-contextual water targets, context-based water targets, and science-based targets for water. Companies are increasingly moving towards contextual and science-based water targets to better understand the factors affecting water resources in the regions in which they operate. Incorporating local context into water targets drives informed actions that help companies make meaningful change.

Types of Water Targets

  • Non-contextual water target: Historically, these targets have been widely adopted and typically focus on water-use reductions in direct operations. However, these types of targets are insufficient in the long-term as they exclude the basin context. They are intended to improve internal efficiencies and water management, and are typically influenced by industry benchmarking, desire for incremental improvement, regulatory compliance, or enterprise-level ambition.
  • Context-based water target (CBWT): A specific time-bound objective that aligns the company’s water performance with local basin context. This allows for the focus on internal water efficiencies and water management actions that consider shared water challenges and desired basin conditions. These types of targets focus water initiatives within the basins most pertinent to the company’s continued operations.
  • Science-based target for water (SBTW): Grounded in scientific understanding of a watershed, the primary purpose of a SBTW is to explicitly link water target performance to sustainable outcomes for a basin, where the level of performance reflects a company’s responsibility towards contributing to a sustainable system boundary.  In short, they present a credible and transparent link between internal performance improvements and contribution to a more sustainable basin.

Why set a Context/Science-based Water Target?

Both CBWT and SBTW focus corporate water targets on the right water challenges in the right places. They allow for continued focus on internal water efficiencies and management, but in a way that considers shared water challenges of the basin and the latest hydrological science. These targets have the greatest impact in delivering tangible business value, mitigating water-related risk, aligning stakeholders around shared water challenges, and engaging in more meaningful collective action at the watershed level.

Building on water footprinting and water accounting and water risk assessments conducted in the analytics phase of a water strategy, Anthesis helps organisations develop impactful goals and targets to embed water stewardship strategy into business practices.


The Anthesis Approach

Supporting Clients to Define Water Goals and Targets

  • Develop options for water target setting based on desired condition of watersheds gap analysis, proportional responsibility assessment, and weight by challenges and opportunities.
  • Identify timeframe, level of ambition, priorities, and opportunities for differentiation.
  • Define the business case, investments, enablers, and other key considerations.
  • Integrate goal setting into other business priority exercises (if relevant) such as materiality assessments and define relationship to the UN’s Sustainable Development goals or other reporting standards (SASB, GRI).
  • Facilitate workshops with stakeholders to align on approach and to inform vision-narrative-goals framework.

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