VIDEO: Colorado River update and SBTN ’s first targets

May 25, 2023

The Week in Sustainability – May 22–26, 2023

A splash of relief: Colorado River and the water conundrum

In April, our discussion around the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation deliberating over Colorado River water withdrawals seems to have culminated in an agreement. The New York Times reported the conclusion of a rather prolonged dialogue about water cutback, initially pitched by Secretary Haaland at an estimated 2 million acre-feet per year (that’s about 650 billion gallons of water per year), the compromise lands at 3 million acre-feet over 3.5 years, a sizeable reduction despite being smaller than the initial proposition. These measures, drastic for those states involved, are a result of thoughtful negotiation and a fortuitous streak of record winter rainfall.

Now, the finer details of this arrangement reveal that only about 700,000 acre-feet of these cuts are voluntary. The rest are entangled with federal grant payments amounting to $1.2 billion from the Inflation Reduction Act, which will be funneled into tribal communities, irrigation districts, and cities willing to trim their residential and industrial water use. The question of agricultural water consumption also comes to the forefront, as it stands at 79% of the Colorado River’s water use, massively overshadowing the 12% used by residential areas. Interestingly, 55% of this huge agricultural demand feeds livestock for meat and dairy. That means a shift in dietary habits could have far-reaching environmental benefits.

Pioneering corporate nature standards: The dawn of SBTN

Let’s shift gears and focus on the Science Based Targets Network (SBTN), a consortium of over 80 organizations formed to align business operations with Earth’s ecological boundaries. The SBTN recently published its inaugural corporate standard for science-based targets for nature. This benchmark encourages companies to scrutinize and prioritize their environmental impacts across land and water parameters. It provides a solid methodology for setting targets grounded in science, thereby addressing pressing environmental issues.

The backstory of this development finds its roots in the COP 15 in Montreal, a convention dedicated to biodiversity, where governments across the globe agreed upon a Biodiversity Framework that aims to curb biodiversity loss, shield natural ecosystems, and increase biodiversity-related financing. 

Additionally, pressure from investors has led companies to assess and report on nature and biodiversity-related issues, guided by a new disclosure system—the Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures (TNFD). All these initiatives reflect the single materiality approach of financial materiality, which aims to safeguard nature and biodiversity and comprehend financial material risks and opportunities related to them. Despite being early days for the SBTN targets, the 17 companies involved in the pilot project show promise—it also marks a turning point in our collective approach to sustainability.

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1. The New York Times, “A Breakthrough Deal to Keep the Colorado River From Going Dry, for Now,” Accessed May 25, 2023

2. ESG Today, “SBTN Releases First Corporate Science Based Targets for Nature,” Accessed May 25, 2023

Editorial statement
At Sustain.Life, our goal is to provide the most up-to-date, objective, and research-based information to help readers make informed decisions. Written by practitioners and experts, articles are grounded in research and experience-based practices. All information has been fact-checked and reviewed by our team of sustainability professionals to ensure content is accurate and aligns with current industry standards. Articles contain trusted third-party sources that are either directly linked to the text or listed at the bottom to take readers directly to the source.
Constanze Duke
Constanze Duke is a director of sustainability at Sustain.Life and leads the company’s technical practice. She began working in sustainability in 2007 and has worked through sustainability’s dramatic evolution into a multi-faceted discipline.
Alyssa Rade
Alyssa Rade is the chief sustainability officer at Sustain.Life. She has over ten years of corporate sustainability experience and guides Sustain.Life’s platform features.
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