Corporate Water Disclosure Glossary


Thoughout these Guidelines, we highlight key terms that may be unfamiliar to some in bold purple text. Here we compile and define these key terms.

aquifer: A geologic formation, group of formations, or part of a formation that contains sufficient saturated permeable material to yield significant quantities of water to wells and springs.
Source: U.S. Geological Survey, Glossary of Hydrologic Terms

base year: A historical datum (such as a year) against which an organization’s progress is tracked over time.
Source: Adapted from GRI, G4 Sustainability Reporting Guidelines

baseline: A starting point used for comparisons.
Source: GRI, G4 Sustainability Reporting Guidelines

basin: See river basin.

BOD: Biological oxygen demand. Index of water pollution which represents the content of biochemically degradable substances in the water.
Source: UNESCO, International Glossary of Hydrology

COD: Chemical oxygen demand. Mass concentration of oxygen equivalent to the amount of a specified oxidant consumed by dissolved or suspended matter when a water sample is treated with that oxidant under defined conditions.
Source: UNESCO, International Glossary of Hydrology

compliance violation: Administrative or judicial sanctions for failure to comply with environmental laws and regulations, including, as a minimum:

  • International declarations, conventions, and treaties, as well as national, subnational, regional, and local regulations
  • Voluntary environmental agreements with regulating authorities that are considered binding and developed as a substitute for implementing new regulations. In certain jurisdictions, such agreements are referred to as covenants
  • Cases brought against the organization through the use of international dispute mechanisms or national dispute mechanisms supervised by government authorities

Source: Based on GRI, G4 Implementation Manual

corporate water disclosure: The act of reporting to stakeholders (investors, NGOs, consumers, communities, suppliers, employees, and others) information related to the current state of a company’s water management, the implications for the business and others, and how the company develops and implements strategic responses

fines and penalties: Monetary amount paid in response to compliance violations.

groundwater: Water in soil beneath the soil surface, usually under conditions where the pressure in the water is greater than the atmospheric pressure and the soil voids are substantially filled with the water.
Source: CDP, Guidance for companies reporting on water on behalf of investors & supply chain members 2014

Note:This document makes a distinction between renewable and nonrenewable groundwater. Renewable groundwater sources can be replenished relatively naturally and are usually located at shallow depths. Nonrenewable groundwater sources are generally located at deeper depths and cannot be replenished easily or are replenished over very long periods of time. They are sometimes referred to as “fossil” groundwater sources.

hot spots: Facilities or geographic/geopolitical areas where a company is most likely to experience water risks or create negative water-related environmental and social impacts

indirect water footprint: The freshwater consumption and pollution “behind” products being consumed or produced. It is equal to the sum of the water footprints of all products consumed by the consumer or of all (nonwater) inputs used by the producer.
Source: Water Footprint Network,WaterStat

KPIs: Key performance indicators

municipal water: Water by a municipality or other public provider.
Source: CDP, Guidance for companies reporting on water on behalf of investors & supply chain members 2014

recycled water: See water recycling and reuse.

reporting period: The specific time span covered by the information reported.
Source: GRI, G4 Sustainability Reporting Guidelines

river basin: Area having a common outlet for its surface runoff.
Source: UNESCO, International Glossary of Hydrology

runoff: The part of precipitation that appears as streamflow.
Source: UNESCO, International Glossary of Hydrology

saltwater: Water in which the concentration of salts is relatively high (over 10,000 mg/L).
Source: UNESCO, International Glossary of Hydrology

SMEs: Small to medium enterprises. The main factors determining whether a company is an SME are the number of employees and either turnover or balance sheet total.
Source: European Commission

stakeholder: Entities or individuals that can reasonably be expected to be significantly affected by the organization’s activities, products, and services, and whose actions can reasonably be expected to affect the ability of the organization to successfully implement its strategies and achieve its objectives. This includes entities or individuals whose rights under law or international conventions provide them with legitimate claims vis-à-vis the organization.

Stakeholders can include those who are invested in the organization (such as employees, shareholders, suppliers) as well as those who have other relationships to the organization (such as vulnerable groups within local communities, civil society).
Source: GRI, G4 Sustainability Reporting Guidelines

subbasin: A geographic area representing part or all of a surface drainage area, a combination of drainage areas, or a distinct hydrologic feature. It is smaller than a river basin.

surface water: All waters on the surface of the earth, including fresh and saltwater, ice, and snow, as distinguished from water from the subsurface (i.e., groundwater). Surface waters include oceans, lakes, rivers, and wetlands.
Source: CDP, Guidance for companies reporting on water on behalf of investors & supply chain members 2014

total basin availability: The amount of water available for ecological or human (e.g., industrial, agricultural, municipal) use within a basin. See blue water availability.

wastewater: Water which is of no further immediate value to the purpose for which it was used or in the pursuit of which it was produced because of its quality, quantity, or time of occurrence. Wastewater from one user can be a potential supply to a user elsewhere. Cooling water is not considered to be wastewater.
Source: FAO, Aquastat

Note: In this document the term wastewater refers to one of the seven potential source types for water withdrawals (see the discussion under Performance in Section 5). This stands in contrast to water discharge.

water consumption: The volume of freshwater used and then evaporated or incorporated into a product. It also includes water abstracted from surface or groundwater in a catchment and returned to another catchment or the sea. It is important to distinguish the term water consumption from the term water withdrawal or water abstraction.
Source: Water Footprint Network, Glossary

water demand: The actual quantity of water required for various needs over a given period as conditioned by economic, environmental, and/or social factors.
Source: WBCSD, Water for Business: Version 3

water discharge: Water effluents discharged to subsurface waters, surface waters, or sewers that lead to rivers, oceans, lakes, wetlands, treatment facilities, and groundwater either through:

  • A defined discharge point (point-source discharge).
  • Over land in a dispersed or undefined manner (non-point-source discharge).
  • Wastewater removed from the organization via truck. Discharge of collected rainwater and domestic sewage is not regarded as water discharge.

Source: Adapted from GRI, G4 Sustainability Reporting Guidelines

water intensity : This document uses the term water intensity to refer to the amount of water a company withdraws per a specific product unit or financial output. Product water intensity is the volume of water withdrawn per unit of product created. The product unit may be determined by the discloser. For companies in the beverage sector, for example, a product unit may be one liter of beverage product. For companies in the automobile sector, a product unit may be one vehicle. Financial water intensity refers to the financial output produced per volume of water withdrawn. The financial output measure may be determined by the discloser. One commonly used measure is total revenue.

water quality: Water quality refers to the physical, chemical, biological, and organoleptic (taste-related) properties of water.
Source: OECD, Glossary of Statistical Terms

water recycling and reuse: The act of processing used water and wastewater through another cycle before discharge to final treatment and discharge to the environment. In general, there are three types of water recycling and reuse:

  • Wastewater recycled back in the same process or higher use of recycled water in the process cycle
  • Wastewater recycled and reused in a different process, but within the same facility
  • Wastewater reused at another of the reporting organization’s facilities

Source: GRI, G4 Sustainability Reporting Guidelines

water risk: The possibility of an entity experiencing a water-related challenge (e.g., water scarcity, water stress, flooding, infrastructure decay, drought). The extent of risk is a function of the likelihood of a specific challenge occurring and the severity of the challenge’s impact. The severity of impact itself depends on the intensity of the challenge, as well as the vulnerability of the actor.

Water risk is felt differently by every sector of society and the organizations within them and thus is defined and interpreted differently (even when they experience the same degree of water-related challenges). That notwithstanding, many water-related challenges create risk for many different sectors and organizations simultaneously. This reality underpins the notion of what some refer to as “shared water risk,” which suggests that different sectors of society have a common interest in understanding and addressing shared water-related challenges. However, some contest the appropriateness of this term on the basis that risk is felt uniquely and separately by individual entities and is typically not shared, per se.
Source: CEO Water Mandate, Corporate Water Disclosure Guidelines (see Driving Harmonization of Water-Related Terminology)

water risk for businesses: The ways in which water-related challenges potentially undermine business viability. It is commonly categorized into three interrelated types:

  • Physical. Having too little water, too much water, water that is unfit for use, or inaccessible water
  • Regulatory. Changing, ineffective, or poorly implemented public water policy and/or regulations
  • Reputational. Stakeholder perceptions that a company does not conduct business in a sustainable or responsible fashion with respect to water

Water risk for businesses is also sometimes divided into two categories that shed light on the source of that risk and therefore what types of mitigation responses will be most appropriate:

  • Risk due to company operations, products, and services. A measure of the severity and likelihood of water-related challenges derived from how a company or organization, and the suppliers from which it sources goods, operate and how its products and services affect communities and ecosystems.
  • Risk due to basin conditions. A measure of the severity and likelihood of water-related challenges derived from the basin context in which a company or organization and/or its suppliers from which it sources goods operate, which cannot be addressed through changes in its operations or its suppliers and requires engagement outside the fence.

Source: CEO Water Mandate, Corporate Water Disclosure Guidelines (see Driving Harmonization of Water-Related Terminology)

water scarcity : Water scarcity refers to the volumetric abundance, or lack thereof, of freshwater resources. Scarcity is human driven; it is a function of the volume of human water consumption relative to the volume of water resources in a given area. As such, an arid region with very little water, but no human water consumption would not be considered scarce, but rather “arid.” Water scarcity is a physical, objective reality that can be measured consistently across regions and over time. Water scarcity reflects the physical abundance of freshwater rather than whether that water is suitable for use. For instance, a region may have abundant water resources (and thus not be considered water scarce), but have such severe pollution that those supplies are unfit for human or ecological uses. Source: CEO Water Mandate, Corporate Water Disclosure Guidelines (see Driving Harmonization of Water-Related Terminology)

water stress: The ability, or lack thereof, to meet human and ecological demand for freshwater. Compared to scarcity, water stress is a more inclusive and broader concept. It considers several physical aspects related to water resources, including water availability, water quality, and the accessibility of water (i.e., whether people are able to make use of physically available water supplies), which is often a function of the sufficiency of infrastructure and the affordability of water, among other things. Both water consumption and water withdrawals provide useful information that offers insight into relative water stress. There are a variety of physical pressures related to water, such as flooding and drought, that are not included in the notion of water stress. Water stress has subjective elements and is assessed differently depending on societal values. For example, societies may have different thresholds for what constitutes sufficiently clean drinking water or the appropriate level of environmental water requirements to be afforded to freshwater ecosystems, and thus assess stress differently.
Source: CEO Water Mandate, Corporate Water Disclosure Guidelines (see Driving Harmonization of Water-Related Terminology)

withdrawals: The volume of freshwater abstraction from surface or groundwater. Part of the freshwater withdrawal will evaporate, another part will return to the catchment where it was withdrawn, and yet another part may return to another catchment or the sea.
Source: Water Footprint Network, Glossary