Protect Water and Natural Resources

Water Quality

Eliminate water pollution across all areas of the value chain, to ensure the health of aquatic ecosystems and the communities that depend on them.

Companies commit to eliminate the discharge of pollutants of concern into aquatic ecosystems in their own operations by 2025 and throughout the value chain by 2030. Specifically, companies will: 

  • Assess water quality impacts in direct and supplier operations and throughout the product life cycle (where relevant) and use this assessment to inform target-setting and develop short-term priority actions

  • Evaluate use of chemicals of concern across operations, products and material inputs, identifying opportunities to transition to safer chemical alternatives and invest in solutions when safer alternatives are not yet available

  • Set robust targets for reducing the discharge of pollutants of concern, with a priority in the short term on eliminating pollutants of greatest industry concern (e.g. persistent organic pollutants, heavy metals) in water discharges

  • Invest in activities that eliminate or achieve best-in-class discharge concentrations for pollutants of concern in watersheds of high impairment, incorporating nature-based solutions where possible

  • Directly engage suppliers that have significant impacts on water quality and those that operate in impaired watersheds to identify solutions for reducing impact, providing meaningful incentives to support supplier investments in water quality solutions 

  • Align new research and development, capital expenditure and merger and acquisition activity with targets for reducing the discharge of pollutants of concern 

  • Advocate for local, national and global policy that strengthens water governance and infrastructure to increase water availability and quality

  • Protect the human right to water and sanitation by allocating resources and developing policies that promote increased community access to clean water and sanitation

  • Require a detailed strategy for eliminating discharge of pollutants of concern for all new siting and expansion of direct operations or procurement in areas where water discharge would contribute to the impairment of aquatic ecosystems

Companies have eliminated the discharge of pollutants of concern into aquatic ecosystems in their own operations. Companies have also demonstrated measurable progress towards eliminating discharge of pollutants of concern into aquatic ecosystems throughout the value chain by 2030. Specifically, in 2025 companies will:

  • Bring to scale water quality solutions including technology investment, supplier incentives, non-compliance procedures and engagement programs

  • Increase transparency of operations, products and material inputs related to pollutants of concern through enhanced monitoring, data collection and traceability 

  • Reevaluate operations, products and material inputs in the context of regions where impairment to local aquatic ecosystems has changed, using new data to inform updated targets

  • Leverage cross-industry collaboration and engagement with local communities and governments to strengthen local and regional water governance and infrastructure

  • Expand activities and stakeholder collaboration to strengthen and support individual and community access to clean water and sanitation

Companies have eliminated the discharge of pollutants of concern into aquatic ecosystems in their own operations and supply chains. Companies operate and source in a way that does not further impair aquatic ecosystems and proactively advocate for strengthened water governance, adequate community water infrastructure and water quality improvement measures in the regions where they or their suppliers operate. 

Safer Chemicals and Freshwater Protection

Chemicals are used in the production of everything from cars to electronics to toys to clothing and food. According to NRDC, the majority of the 80,000 chemicals used in the U.S. alone, have not been tested for their impact to the health of humans or our ecosystems. Further, Greenpeace identified more than 17,000 chemicals of concern that are used throughout global supply chains across industries.

Reducing corporate chemical footprints and transitioning to safer chemistry are paramount to the future protection of freshwater ecosystems. The solutions, however, are complex and require companies to identify strategies for influencing critical decision-makers across industries, within the chemical supply chain and in government. 

Cross-industry collaboration, such as the apparel sector’s ZDHC (Zero Discharge for Hazardous Waste) and its Roadmap to Zero, combine the individual leadership commitments and expertise of corporate members with the collective resources and influence of the group to achieve a host of results. These include eliminating chemicals of concern from their shared supply chain, developing solutions for chemicals where no safer alternative exists, incentivizing chemical suppliers to develop safer chemistries, addressing challenges of water infrastructure and collectively advocating for policy and regulations that improve water governance.  

These forms of pre-competitive multi-stakeholder collaboration allow companies to collectively raise the bar on what is considered to be standard business practice, changing the status quo across whole industries. 

Getting Started

This section of the Ceres Roadmap 2030 identifies the foundational steps companies can take to begin implementing the actions needed to protect water and natural resources.

✓ Respect Human Right to Water and Sanitation

In addition to company wide policies that support the intention to reduce activities that impact water and natural resources, companies will have a policy that reflects their responsibility to respect the Human Right to Water and Sanitation throughout their operations and value chain. The company should ensure that 100% of employees have access to clean drinking water, safe sanitation and appropriate hygiene in the workplace (WASH), as well as ensure that employees and value chain partners are implementing the company’s expectations for respecting the Human Right to Water and Sanitation.  The company should collaborate with the local community and its decision-makers to help support efforts to provide WASH throughout the community.  

✓ Engage Role Players

To capture the full breadth and depth of risks and opportunities related to protecting water and natural resources, companies should consider the role of various business units across the value chain and regularly engage with business unit leaders to analyze the positive and negative impacts that the companies activities, products and partnerships have on various ecosystems.  Upstream, natural resource protection and restoration opportunities may take the form of working with suppliers to eliminate pollutants and chemicals of concern from the components that make up the company’s products and services.  Downstream, these opportunities may take the form of  working with customers to reverse logistics and develop processes to bring valuable inputs and materials back into the supply chain. Engaging business unit leaders will uncover better solutions and make the process of establishing workforce accountability easier.  Concurrently, business unit leaders and senior management need to establish fluid lines of communication and disseminate key risks and opportunities into clear messaging that will engage board members. Complementary board oversight and accountability from the top down will support the integration of sustainability priorities across the business, informing strategic and annual planning and ensuring the proper allocation of resources for achieving stated goals. 

✓ Connect the Dots

To assess where water and natural resources stress is greatest, companies will leverage third party validated data sets and tools to identify the risks facing ecosystems in areas where direct operations, supplier facilities and key commodities are located. This assessment will analyze both the conditions of those regions and watersheds and the impacts that the company’s operations and business activities pose to the region, watershed and local stakeholders. The assessment will include analysis of current and projected water and natural resource scarcity and quality challenges and related impacts under future climate scenarios, including regulatory, reputational, community and physical risks. 

✓ Establish Policies

For companies to decouple business growth from the consumption of natural resources and commit to becoming resource positive, they will need to first establish company wide policies that support the intention to reduce activities that impact water and natural resources throughout the value chain. Based on the company’s business model and structure, the depth and complexity of these policies will vary, but they should first be implemented in areas of the value chain that have the largest absolute impact.  

✓ Build a Management System Designed for Evolution

Once policies and procedures are designed to address the identified impacts and risks, performance must be measured as part of a comprehensive management system to ensure that processes are driving towards intended outcomes and that management has the data available to make informed decisions.  Companies should develop processes and tools as part of their management systems to monitor the performance and effectiveness of departments and develop sector-relevant key performance indicators that measure progress to ensure alignment between commitments, operations, relationships and investments.  As part of a complete management system, companies should create processes to address instances of non-compliance and make efforts to address the root causes of the adverse impacts identified.

Disclosing Progress

Disclosure establishes accountability, provides a foundation for engagement and serves as a platform for demonstrating priorities, process and progress. See the Transparency and Disclosure section of Ceres Roadmap 2030 on how to make all of your disclosures complete, credible and decision-useful.

The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) Standards and the Sustainable Accounting Standards Board (SASB) are two disclosure tools widely recognized as standards for guiding comparable sustainability disclosure. Disclosure related to corporate efforts to protect water and natural resources should also be guided by two additional disclosure resources that help to strengthen corporate disclosure and meet the expectations of stakeholders, in particular investors: the CEO Water Mandate Corporate Disclosure Guidelines and the CDP Water Scarcity Questionnaire (CDP-W)

The CEO Water Mandate has developed water disclosure guidelines that offer a common approach for  how companies report their water management practices while helping to minimize reporting burden.  The guidelines are industry agnostic. They walk users through a comprehensive framework on how to approach corporate water management disclosure and offer disclosure details through basic and advanced guidance.  

Companies and investors recognize CDP disclosures for their comprehensiveness and detailed information. More than 8,000 companies disclose to CDP, while over 500 investors with assets totaling more than $100 trillion request data from CDP. The CDP-W comes in two versions: a minimum version and a full version that includes sector specific questions.  Either the minimum or the full version can be used to calculate a company’s CDP score. The questionnaires allow companies to provide structured details pertaining to how they are addressing and managing water scarcity impacts.  The questionnaire and scoring process is performed annually, giving stakeholders the opportunity to monitor water commitment progress on a regular basis.

The CDP-W recently mapped specific sections of the questionnaire to the CEO Water Mandate and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This makes reporting across multiple frameworks easier, while also creating space for companies to provide more granular details with respect to water governance, strategy, risk assessments, projects, goals and metrics across locations, facilities and the value chain.

Increasingly, the investment community is calling on companies to conduct climate scenario analysis to better understand current and potential risk to the business. As the financial risks related to water impacts become better understood, companies should proactively link and disclose their physical water risk analysis to the climate scenario analysis as well as provide transparency into the risk assessment and management processes related to water. As disclosure requirements and investor expectations evolve for water risk, companies should specifically be reporting on the following policies and metrics: 

  • Supplier and operations policies that guide water usage and pollutants of concern
  • Locally relevant data for their context-based water targets in watersheds with high water stress, rather than as part of aggregate water data
  • Regional and facility level data across shared global supply chains

When it comes to disclosing information pertaining to natural resources, specifics will vary based on the company’s industry or the materials and resources used in its products or services.  GRI recently released updated guidance on waste that can be applied to any company. However, stakeholders will want to see that companies are evaluating and disclosing information about key resources, the implications of their use and potential solutions for reducing risk and generating value.  Some examples of key resources that should be disclosed include: metals, minerals, chemicals, fibers and textiles, animal products and agricultural commodities.

Additional Disclosure Resources

Ceres: Disclose What Matters - Analysis of sustainability disclosures of the world's largest companies, with recommendations for bridging the gap to provide executable, relevant information to investors.


With respect to water supply and water quality there are many programs, resources and materials available to help guide companies. Below is a list of some key resources:
The Valuing Water Finance Task Force - The Task Force seeks to raise awareness within the capital markets of the widespread negative impacts of corporate practices on water supplies, as well as to clarify which industries and practices are linked to the most severe and systemic of these impacts. 

AgWater Challenge - An initiative backed by the World Wildlife Fund and Ceres, the AgWater Challenge helps companies advance their sustainable sourcing strategies. Through the Challenge, companies can receive support in analyzing water issues within their supply chains and in refining or making new sourcing commitments that enable them to better address their risk. As a part of the AgWater Challenge, Ceres and WWF work with companies to develop time-bound and measurable commitments.

Connect the Drops -  A campaign organized by Ceres that brings together investors and companies to elevate the voice of businesses in favor of resilient water solutions in California. The campaign champions innovative water stewardship initiatives by partner companies and provides opportunities for companies to engage with policymakers on the need to “connect the drops” between sustainable water supplies and the economic health of California. The campaign and its influential companies promote water policy solutions that protect and enhance water supplies.

Water Resilience Coalition - An industry-driven, CEO-led coalition of the UN Global Compact’s CEO Water Mandate that aims to elevate global water stress to the top of the corporate agenda and preserve the world's freshwater resources through collective action in water-stressed basins and ambitious, quantifiable commitments.

Alliance for Water Stewardship -  AWS is a global membership collaboration comprising businesses, NGOs and the public sector. AWS Membership serves as a platform to exchange learning and a vehicle to advance water-related goals. Through AWS, organisations connect with and draw upon experience from peers, multi-disciplinary water experts, water-relevant sustainability initiatives and standard systems pursuing compatible objectives. 

Water Footprint Network - The Water Footprint Network aims to facilitate partners in initiating activities, sharing best-practices and developing tools and materials that help reach the shared mission of using the water footprint concept to promote the transition toward sustainable, fair and efficient use of freshwater resources worldwide.

Ceres: Investor Water Toolkit - This ‘how-to’ guide includes links to resources, databases, case studies and other tools to evaluate and act on water risks in investment portfolios.

Ceres: Feeding Ourselves Thirsty - This updated, third edition of Feeding Ourselves Thirsty provides investors with guidance and relevant data for evaluating the water risk management of 40 major companies in the agricultural products, beverage, meat and packaged food industries. It also tracks their progress in managing their water risks as compared to performance in 2017 and 2015.

International Water Stewardship Standard - A globally applicable framework for major water users to understand their water use and impacts and to work collaboratively and transparently for sustainable water management within a catchment context. 

Guide to Setting Site Water Targets Informed by Catchment Context - This guide aims to help companies set effective site water targets that are informed by catchment context, which can create value and lower risks for the company and support collective action.

Exploring the Case for Corporate Context-based Water Targets - CEO Water Mandate report that makes the case that to effectively contribute to long-term risk mitigation and tackle increasing water challenges, corporate water targets must be informed by the best available science on hydro-ecological conditions at the basin level, informed by contextual social needs and aligned with local to global public policy objectives.

Global Institute for Water Security - The top water resources research institute in Canada and one of the most advanced hydrology research centres in the world, GIWS is dedicated to helping protect precious freshwater resources needed for the world’s growing demand for sustainable food production, mitigating the risk of water-related disasters, such as floods, droughts and fires, and predicting and forecasting extremes of global change.

WRI Aqueduct Water Risk Atlas - Tools that help companies, governments and civil society understand and respond to water risks, including water stress, variability from season-to-season, pollution and water access. Aqueduct maps and data are used by hundreds of companies and are cited in many publications.

WWF Water Risk Filter - A practical, online tool that helps companies and investors assess and respond to water-related risks facing their operations and investments across the globe.

Ecolab Water Risk Monetizer - A publicly available global water risk tool that leverages best-in-class local water basin datasets and scientific methodologies to monetize business water risks.

Treading Water: Corporate Responses to Rising Water Challenges - CDP analyzed a group of 296 companies, which have been consistently responding to the group over the last four years, to analyze progress towards key aspects of better water management

Guidance on Business Respect for the Human Right to Water and Sanitation - A report that provides practical guidance about how to effectively align corporate water stewardship practice with the corporate responsibility to respect the human rights to water and sanitation and helps companies bring a human rights lens to their existing or emerging water stewardship efforts.

Companies in Action

Archer Daniels Midland incentivizes farmers to participate in sustainable agriculture initiatives. More food companies are recognizing the environmental and financial benefits of supporting their growers’ transition to sustainable farming practices, including those with a focus on water quality. Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) has done this by committing to providing a lump-sum or premium incentive to any farmer who participates in its sustainable agriculture programs, focused first on U.S. farmers of corn, wheat and soybean. The programs teach and encourage specific practices, including the use of farm management software to measure and track water quality. To promote participation, ADM offers financial incentives to all farmers, along with grants to local Soil and Water Conservation Districts to support education efforts and adoption of conservation practices. A member of the AgWater Challenge since 2018, ADM has set several targets to track progress and reinforce its commitments to protect fresh water in its agricultural supply chain. Among these are commitments to enroll at least 50 regional Illinois farmers in the Saving Tomorrow’s Agriculture Resources (STAR) program and to expand the percentage of wheat the company sources from Field to Market farmers. 

Walmart announces time-bound chemical footprint reduction goal, a first among US retailers. Increased consumer and investor awareness on the potential human and environmental health impacts of chemicals is encouraging companies to develop a deeper understanding of their chemical footprint, set targets and disclose progress. In 2017, Walmart became the first major retailer to evaluate its chemical footprint using the Chemical Footprint Project framework, a benchmarking tool that helps companies measure and disclose the use of chemicals of high concern throughout their value chain and provide investors and other stakeholders with decision-useful and comparable information. Through its Sustainable Chemistry Commitment, Walmart articulates how it is integrating leading green chemistry principles throughout its business. To do this, the company is asking suppliers to provide full ingredient transparency and advance safer formulation and encouraging the use of leading certifications, such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Safer Choice program, the Environmental Working Group verification and Cradle to Cradle certification. Building on this work, the company committed to reducing the chemical footprint in personal care, beauty, baby, pet and household cleaning categories in its U.S stores by 10% by 2022 (from a 2017 baseline).

Apple commits to smart and sustainable manufacturing through strong supply chain management. There is an increased awareness that a company's supply chain does not just impact local ecosystems, it is also often interconnected with other manufacturing partners. Building on this understanding, Apple regularly audits its supply chain using a variety of metrics on the topics of water stewardship, energy efficiency and safer process chemicals, among others. To address pollution and environmental impact challenges across its supply chain, Apple partners with the widely respected Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs (IPE), a nonprofit environmental organization based in Beijing, China that is focused on improving the environmental performance of manufacturing suppliers across the country through brand engagement, improved data transparency and strengthened systems of accountability. In 2019, Apple was recognized by the IPE at the Master Level, a designation earned as a result of the company being ranked No. 1 five years running in the IPE's annual benchmark as a result of the company's engagement with its more than 200 suppliers in China to both track and rectify issues related to water pollution non-compliance. In 2019, Apple joined Blue EcoChain, which offers tools allowing real-time monitoring of environmental compliance for supplier facilities and has committed to bringing all of its existing Chinese suppliers into its Blue EcoChain. These actions to better manage and remediate water pollution at its supplier manufacturing facilities are supported by the company's overall commitment and investment in strong chemical management and the identification of safer chemistries in both its product design and manufacturing phases. Apple's Green Chemistry Advisory Board, a group of the leading toxicologists, researchers and academics, is brought together regularly by the company to review the latest science, discuss existing challenges and review the company's priorities and strategy for safer chemistry.