By 2030, the global deficit in available water supply relative to demand is expected to reach 56%. Domestic water use represents a key factor in this deficit, and consumers and consumer goods companies play important roles in responding to our shared water challenges.

Businesses are increasingly setting water targets beyond their operations, following new guidance for setting enterprise targets. While there are some resources available to help develop upstream or supply chain target-setting — for example, Cargill’s approach to modeling and developing targets that address water impacts in its agricultural supply chain — there are limited resources and processes to understand the water consumed downstream of operations, particularly for consumer goods companies whose products require water to be used. To address this gap, WRI and Procter & Gamble (P&G) partnered on modeling the water impacts in P&G’s downstream value chain (i.e., the product-use phase) and developing corporate targets that address these impacts.

This Practice Note uses material flow analysis (MFA) to estimate the amount of water consumed in P&G’s product-use phase, which is when consumers use products such as laundry detergent and toothpaste. Water consumption was estimated using a combination of market and shipment data from P&G, estimated household water consumption, and basin-level population data. The output was total water consumed during product use (e.g., while shampooing in the shower) across 18 priority basins in seven countries where facilities in priority consumer markets are exposed to chronic high baseline water stress.

Key Findings:

  • The estimated water consumption during product use provided the foundational data to develop a quantitative target to address consumer water impacts. The partners navigated several target-setting options and decided to focus actions on the basins with the largest water consumption associated with consumer use. Two basins, the Moctezuma basin in Mexico and the Calleguas basin in the United States, represented more than 50% of the total estimated consumer water consumption. P&G’s corporate target is to restore 110% of the water consumed in these two priority basins. This consumer-use target is in addition to the target of restoring 110% of water consumed at P&G manufacturing sites in all 18 priority water-stressed basins. Basin boundaries and names were derived using WRI’s Aqueduct data underlying the Water Risk Atlas tool, including HydroSHEDS Level 6 boundaries and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations basin nomenclature.
  • The method of estimating downstream water consumption offers lessons for other businesses. The calculation of water consumption in the product-use phase may be adopted by similar consumer goods companies or any corporation with significant downstream water impacts. A key recommendation from the authors is that businesses do not wait for perfect data to begin tackling these value chain issues. Available secondary data can be used in innovative models to set initial targets and pathways for achieving them. As more granular data become available, the models can be revisited and fine-tuned. When setting and implementing volume targets, businesses should also be aware of the potential to generate perverse incentives and should focus on actions that deliver tangible, contextually relevant benefits to watershed health.
  • This Practice Note documents a process to understand downstream water consumption and corollary enterprise targets. In light of our shared water challenges and the increasing understanding of how water risks may materialize throughout the value chain, businesses will increasingly need ambitious targets that address wider portions of their value chains. They could benefit from following the process developed here by WRI and P&G. Responsible business practices are always evolving, so leaders in various sectors will benefit from preparing their companies to take on increased responsibility for their consumer water impacts.

Related Resources from P&G:


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