Protect Water and Natural Resources

Water Supply

For direct and supplier operations, reduce water use in the context of local water supply challenges and achieve water balance in watersheds of high water stress.

Companies commit to reducing water use within direct and supplier operations by setting and meeting reduction targets informed by local water supply challenges by 2025, prioritizing watersheds of high water stress and/or high water use. Companies will also set targets to achieve water balance in watersheds of high water stress by 2030. In 2020, companies will:

  • Assess water quantity impacts of direct and supplier operations and use the data to inform target-setting and develop short-term priority actions

  • Set robust water use reduction targets for  direct and supplier operations that are informed by local conditions, prioritizing watersheds of high water stress and water use

  • Invest in systems to improve supplier reporting and the traceability of water intensive inputs and commodities, strengthening monitoring systems and reporting results publicly

  • Design implementation strategies to improve water conservation and efficiency and eliminate negative impacts of water use on both ecological limits and community needs 

  • Align new research and development, capital expenditure and merger and acquisition activity with water targets

  • Directly engage suppliers to identify solutions for reducing impact and provide meaningful incentives to support investments in water efficiency, reuse, stormwater capture and reuse, watershed restoration and water and sanitation infrastructure

  • Begin to achieve water balance in high stress watersheds by investing in projects and activities beyond direct or supplier operations, such as offsite water efficiency optimization, demand reduction, water reuse, infrastructure development and ecosystem restoration

  • 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 achieving water balance for all new siting and expansion of direct operations or procurement in watersheds of high or medium stress

Companies have met targets for reducing water use, informed by local water supply challenges, for direct and supplier operations, within watersheds of high water stress and/or high water use. Companies increase the ambition of their original target to include watersheds of medium water stress and water use. Companies continue to demonstrate measurable progress towards achieving water balance for direct and supplier operations in watersheds of high water stress by 2030. In 2025, companies will:

  • Bring to scale successful water conservation and efficiency solutions within direct and supplier operations, including technology investment, supplier incentives, non-compliance procedures, engagement programs, etc. 

  • Increase investment in successful conservation, reuse and recharge solutions focused outside of direct and supplier operations, leveraging cross-industry collaboration and engagement with local governments to create stronger water governance

  • Increase transparency of direct and supplier operation performance related to the use of water intensive processes, inputs and commodities through enhanced data collection and traceability 

  • Reevaluate water stress and use data to identify regions where water stress and impact has changed, using new data to inform updated 2030 targets focused on watersheds of medium and high water stress

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

Companies have met targets for reducing water use in the context of local water challenges for all direct and supplier operations within watersheds of high and medium water stress and/or high and medium water use. Through investment in interventions in watersheds and communities, companies have also achieved water balance for all direct and supplier operations in regions of high water stress. All new operations and procurement is limited to low or medium stress watersheds or high stress watersheds where water balance is immediately feasible. In all regions where they operate and source, companies proactively advocate for strengthened water governance, infrastructure and equitable access to clean water and sanitation.

Human Right to Water and Sanitation

By 2050, according to UN estimates, one in four people will live in a country affected by chronic shortages of freshwater.  And in the COVID-19 pandemic, when hand washing is our most critical line of defense, in those countries at greatest risk two out of every three people (1 billion in total) do not have access to soap and clean water. 

Every company has the responsibility to respect the human right to water and sanitation and should align business practices with the guidance provided by the CEO Water Mandate on respecting the human right to water and sanitation. To strengthen relationships with local communities and improve the health of individuals in those communities, companies should go beyond the mantra of “do no harm.”

Building on the actions taken by individual corporations, including corporate policies and practices that acknowledge and actively respect the human right to water and sanitation, companies must also look beyond themselves to identify solutions to benefit the broader communities in which they operate. In doing so, companies must identify those people most vulnerable to a lack of clean water access and proper sanitation. Companies should invest in solutions and multi-stakeholder collaborations that not only benefit the community, but also strengthen local water infrastructure, improve employee and community health and enhance the social license to operate. 

Strengthening Water Governance

Even the most ambitious and innovative actions of an individual company to reduce its operational water impacts can be quickly negated if local governance of water resources is inadequate. To address this challenge, companies should advocate that governments advance science-based public policy and regulation on water management issues at the local, sub-national and national levels, focusing primarily on the regions where they or their suppliers operate. Once such collaboration is Ceres’ Connect the Drops initiative, which brings together Californian companies to urge policymakers to advance resilient water solutions that ensure sustainable management of the state’s stressed, and often unpredictable water supplies.  

This level of advocacy enables lawmakers to hear directly from companies and investors on the economic case for stronger water management, including but not limited to science-based allocations and discharge limits, infrastructure funding and maximizing local water supplies.

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

Target's freshwater stewardship approach sets commitments across the value chain. Leading companies are taking a close look at water impacts across the value chain, including both environmental and social impacts from design to discharge, and setting quantitative targets focused on a variety of key indicators. Target's water management approach focuses on three core objectives designed to support the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals: improving water quality, optimizing water efficiency and increasing access to clean water. Target goals begin with its own stores, distribution centers and offices, where the company has committed to reducing water consumption by 15% by 2025 from a 2010 baseline year. While the impact at the operational level is important, companies like Target must look beyond their own walls to address water impacts across the value chain. Target has recognized the urgency to address water impacts associated with its raw material procurement and apparel design and manufacturing. To address key water risks in its agricultural supply chain, Target joined Ceres and WWF's AgWater Challenge and is working towards advancing a number of key soil health and sustainable agricultural practices within its supply chain. Additionally, Target has set time-bound commitments specific to its apparel supply chain, including a commitment to improve water efficiency in textile dyeing and finishing factories located in priority watersheds by 15% by 2022. Taking it a step further into the design phase, Target is committed to designing 100% of its owned-brand apparel using water saving design principles. 

Mars sets context-based water targets and prioritizes action in regions of high water stress. Water impacts are highly localized. In response, leading companies in the food and beverage industry are developing sophisticated strategies for addressing key risks. A growing number of companies are setting “context-based"" water targets, which are designed to recognize the localized business vulnerabilities and watershed-level impacts on both the environment and people. The chocolate giant Mars has set context-based water targets to ensure that the water used throughout its value chain is within annually renewable levels specific to the watersheds the company operates in and sources from. By 2025, Mars aims to reduce its water use 50% from 2015 levels. Joining a small subset of companies that are setting locally relevant targets, Mars set more ambitious water intensity targets for facilities in regions of high water stress. It will require 20 of its factories within the highest water risk regions to complete water stewardship reviews in accordance with the Alliance for Water Stewardship standard.

Levi Strauss sets context-based water targets that are good for communities and business. Comprehensive water management is a business imperative like never before. Corporate water stewardship demands a context-based approach that takes into account local conditions, community needs and available resources in a particular region. Levi Strauss & Co.’s 2025 water action strategy is guided by a bold vision to use only as much water as replenishes naturally across all operations. To accomplish this, the apparel company has committed to reducing water use in manufacturing in highly stressed areas by 50% by 2025. Resources like the World Resources Institute’s Aqueduct Water Risk Atlas enabled the company to map suppliers against water stressed areas and design strategies accordingly. Additionally, Levi Strauss also committed to helping key suppliers (representing 80% of production) become ""Water<Less"" facilities by 2025. Launched in 2011, the Water<Less program looks to identify technical innovations to save water compared to traditional methods and has been open sourced to scale impact among peers. 

General Mills invests in water stewardship and prioritizes action in at-risk watersheds globally. Looking to address the direct water impacts associated with agricultural practices, leading companies are establishing local strategies to improve the health of watersheds and surrounding communities. General Mills has committed to champion water stewardship within the companies most material and at-risk-watersheds across its global value chain by 2025. To determine priority locations, General Mills in 2016 developed a water risk assessment across 41 watersheds globally, accounting for 15 key ingredients. The assessment included factors such as water quantity, quality and baseline water stress and leveraged resources, including the World Wildlife Fund Water Risk Filter and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development Global Water Tool, among others. Following a four-phase approach, the company is focused on eight priority watersheds across its worldwide operations and reports significant progress compared to the previous year. The company's approach evaluates watersheds by risk level and also by phase of engagement--Phase 1: assessment, Phase 2: analysis and action planning, Phase 3: collaboration and Phase 4: transformation.

Gap Inc. launches innovative dyeing process that can reduce water usage by up to 99%. The footwear and apparel industry is among the most intensive users of water, and companies are exploring innovative technologies to address their critical environmental impacts. In 2019, Gap Inc. announced Dry Indigo®, a foam-dye process that uses 99% less water, 89% fewer chemicals and 65% less energy than traditional denim dyeing methods. The process also facilitates the elimination of water discharge compared to the traditional slasher indigo (or sheet dyeing) process. Through a special collection, the company launched the pilot process through a partnership between Banana Republic and a Spanish denim mill that has been fine tuning the technology for the past decade. This project directly supports the Gap Inc.’s long standing goal to conserve 10 billion liters of water in its manufacturing operations by the end of 2020 and builds on Banana Republic’s pledge to manufacture at least 50% of its products using water saving techniques by 2025.