Contextual & Science Based Targets for Water | WWF
© Staffan Widstrand / WWF

Contextual & Science Based Targets for Water

For decades scientists, as well as WWF reports, have been warning that human impacts are pushing life on our planet beyond its capacity - an era where humans are the primary drivers of planetary change rather than natural forces. Year-on-year, more areas are impacted by water scarcity and pollution, while extreme weather events, like droughts and floods, are becoming more regular and more destructive. Without water, there is no business.

The global/local trends of supply and demand imbalances that most basins face will not be resolved by companies setting more “ambitious” efficiency targets. By setting water targets that respond to local water conditions (i.e., context), and that account for corporate water risk exposure, it ensures corporate actions are aligned to both risk reduction and improving shared basin challenges that benefits people and nature.

WWF is working to change the way corporate water targets are set, as part of a water stewardship strategy that is underpinned by freshwater context. We are doing so out of a shared need that business and biodiversity have: articulating and arriving at a destination that ensures that everyone within a basin can stay “in business”. To get there, WWF is working to help companies progressively shift to new ways of thinking.

Moving towards Science-Based Targets for Water

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© Adam Oswell / WWF-Myanmar

Non-contextual water targets

The primary purpose of these targets is to improve internal efficiencies and water management. These targets do not consider the surrounding freshwater context within a basin but are rather influenced by things like benchmarking, desire for incremental improvement, compliance or enterprise-level ambition. In short, these targets are simply driven by internal agendas and are insufficient in the long-term if we are to collectively work to address the global water challenges.

© Simon de TREY-WHITE / WWF-UK

Contextual water targets

The primary purpose of these targets is to better align corporate water performance with the surrounding freshwater context. These targets respond to the surrounding freshwater context within a basin and the current status of the freshwater context generally informs the level of ambition. In short, they are intended to focus corporate water targets on the right water challenges in the right places. These types of targets provide a middle ground between non-contextual and SBTW, allowing for a continued focus on internal water efficiencies and management but in a way that considers the shared water challenges of the basin. Click to learn more about how WWF is working with partners like H&M and Carlsberg on setting contextual water targets or explore our blogs on the topic. 

© WWF / Simon Rawles

Science-Based Water Targets

The primary purpose of these targets is to explicitly link water target performance to contributing towards sustainable outcomes for the surrounding freshwater system. These targets are grounded in a scientific understanding of a water system and has a level of performance that reflects a company’s responsibility towards contributing to upholding a sustainable system boundary. In short, these targets present a credible & transparent way to demonstrate a more meaningful link between how internal performance improvements are contributing to creating a more sustainable basin.
The shift from non-contextual to Science-Based Targets for Water (if appropriate) won’t happen over night as this represents a significant change in how corporate water targets evolve out of corporate water stewardship strategies. As such, WWF sees the evolution towards these next generation targets looking something like:

Current recommendations for companies wanting to get going

WWF already has a global Freshwater network and an array of existing tools and methods that could be deployed now to create value for our corporate partners, along with people and nature. We have already begun to work with companies on contextual water targets.

WWF recommends companies can take the following steps in the near-term:

  • Get started immediately by adopting contextual water targets (and guidance) at the corporate and site level.
  • Keep apprised of, or engage with, the development of Science-Based Targets for Water (via the Science-Based Targets Network – a consortium of groups and scientists working to build new, more rigorous approaches).


If you have any questions – please reach out to Rylan Dobson (Water Stewardship Manager and WWF’s lead for SBTW) at or Alexis Morgan (Global Water Stewardship Lead) at