World Wildlife Fund Sustainability Works

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The Next Frontier for Corporate Water Targets

  • Date: 05 October 2022
  • Author: Allen Townsend, Senior Program Officer, Freshwater Metrics & Stewardship

Like an archer aligning their eye and arrow on the bullseye, identifying the appropriate target is critical for establishing the path towards action. For companies looking to reduce their dependencies and impacts on the environment, including freshwater, land, biodiversity, and ocean, science-based targets (SBTs) for nature are a critical initiative for companies to take robust and credible action towards an environmentally safe and socially just future. When defined and implemented, these corporate targets will take direct aim at the drivers and pressures fueling nature loss, offering a pathway for critical and measurable corporate action in the right places at the right time.

As a member of the Science Based Targets Network (SBTN) and a Freshwater Hub partner, WWF is collaborating with CDP, The Nature Conservancy, Pacific Institute, and World Resources Institute in providing technical expertise for the development of science-based targets for nature. While SBTN's Initial Guidance, published in 2020, provides companies with a 5-step framework for action, the Network has now released more detailed technical guidance for public comment. This draft guidance will provide companies with detailed methodologies to assess and prioritize their impacts on nature, and enable them to progress to setting targets, beginning with freshwater.

How to implement science-based targets for nature

Companies first gather information to understand and set a baseline for how their operations are affecting nature. Using freshwater targets as an example, companies will compile information on how much freshwater they use, which of their commodities use freshwater, where operations and upstream suppliers may be impacting freshwater quality, and so on. Performing initial data collection and analysis upfront can help companies to avoid setting targets that are arbitrary and lacking in transparency.

Then, by taking a science-based approach, companies identify their most impactful business activities and locations. Continuing with freshwater as the example, these are locations where companies have operations and/or sourcing and where environmental thresholds for freshwater use and/or pollution have been exceeded. The reason for identifying location-specific targets is that the constraints and limitations facing one river basin may differ greatly from another. Therefore, the sustainable use and resource management practices implemented must align with the realistic limits of each watershed to effectively reduce the pressures on nature and communities.

Within those basins, companies calculate the targets for freshwater quantity and quality that they must meet in order for the basin to be within sustainable limits.

Once science-based targets are set, the companies identify and implement the actions needed to achieve the targets, and monitor progress and impact moving forward.

Engaging Now

The case is clear: nature loss, climate change, and inequality are the most significant threats and opportunities of our time. The private sector plays an essential role in taking action and setting SBTs is a step toward addressing all three. In other words, SBTs aren’t only for nature - they’re for ourselves, business, and society.

To ensure science-based targets for nature are both practical and rigorous, SBTN's draft technical guidance is available for public comment until October 14.

SBTs for nature v1 will be available for companies to use in early 2023 and will include land in addition to freshwater targets.


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