“A goal without a timeline is just a dream.”
Ever since Robert Herjavec said this on the popular reality TV show Shark Tank, the quote been adopted as go-to advice for aspiring entrepreneurs. Want to make it big? Want to turn your hobby into a business? You have to set time-bound goals and stick to them.
This goes for water stewardship targets too.
According to the 2016 CDP Global Water Report, over three hundred corporations around the world have set water-related sustainability targets. Commonly, this entails a commitment to reaching big-picture goals by a certain date – five, ten years into the future. Nestlé, for example, has set a target of reducing water use by 35 percent and engaging in at least 10 new water stewardship initiatives by 2020. They have a goal and they have a deadline.
But having a deadline does not mean you have a timeline. A timeline has intermittent milestones and checkpoints to keep initiatives on track – this is what Herjavec was talking about. The graphic below shows some key components of an effective water stewardship plan, which are modified from the Alliance for Water Stewardship Standard.
The first step is identifying intermediary targets — what specific actions need be to taken in order to achieve the company’s bigger objective? If you’re going to reduce water use across the company by 35 percent, you must what steps do you need to take to get there. From there, each target needs:
- Metrics. What statistics, facts, or figures will tell you whether you are meeting or making progress on your goal?
- Costs & Benefits. How does the target contribute to the overall objective and fit into the company’s mission, and how much is it going to cost?
- Person Accountable. Who has direct responsibility and oversight for each task? More broadly, someone needs to be keeping the company on schedule and pushing targets to keep everyone from facility managers to executives on the same page.
- Start & End Date. This comes back to Herjavec’s main idea. You need explicit and reachable timeframes for meeting the targets that will ultimately allow the company to reach its water stewardship objective(s).
Setting specific timelines for water targets can be a challenge due to the large scale and long-term nature of many water-related issues. Operational water use reductions are often seen as the “low-hanging fruit” of water and can sometimes be implemented quickly. But if you’re talking about restoring ecosystems or engaging in collective action, it can take years, even decades. This can be hard to reconcile with the corporate financial cycle, where investors often expect to see progress and results within a quarter. Having a detailed timeline with progress and milestones to show at that quarterly interval, and being able to connect it to the longer-term objectives, is a great way to demonstrate the relevance and efficacy of your water stewardship initiatives.
When it comes to setting corporate water stewardship goals, you need to lay the tracks before you can drive the train. While the ambitious long-term goal looks impressive – and being aspirational is important – setting realistic shorter-term targets along the way can support that bigger effort. It also assures stakeholders that companies are serious about the initiative, because targets with near-term timelines hold companies accountable for achieving measurable progress. This can help increase buy-in and mitigate reputational risk. Taking the time to develop a clear and specific timeline in advance of pursuing water targets will help ensure success.