What's the target?

Are you about to write an environmental strategy? A key question for any company, development or local government is: “What is your strategy trying to achieve?” Will it result in less energy consumed, less net emissions, and less water consumed?

Targets essentially drive you in one of two directions: to reduce overall use, or meet a relative target.

The relative option usually takes the form of a target expressed as a function of per capita, or per employee, or per site, or to achieve a relative ranking.

The absolute target is designed to limit a set amount of water or energy, or a cap on the amount of emissions / pollution.

I’ll give you two key examples of where organisations have set relative targets:

1.       Melbourne has a Target 155 to encourage residents to save water. at home.

2.       The Australian federal government wants to reduce emissions per capita. 


The problem is that Melbourne’s overall water use has increased, and Australia’s overall emissions have increased (see as the last two red dots on the chart show).

Josh Frydenberg ( ) stated on radio (11th January 2018) that “June quarter figures showed emissions went down by 0.6 per cent, and that emissions on a per capita and GDP basis were at "their lowest in 28 years".”  True, but the atmosphere doesn’t factor in how many people or how much GDP a nation has, it’s just a net budget.

For the water related Target 155, Melbourne Water’s 2016/17 annual report states “Melburnians used an average of 1170 million litres of water per day during the year, which was 7 per cent more than the last five-year average”. It is below its peak in the nineties, but is now consistently trending up despite a mostly successful Target 155 campaign.  

People and organisations often set targets using the ‘relative’ option as it makes sense, and it is easy to explain how you are ‘doing your fair share’. 

But unfortunately the environment itself doesn’t really deal with relative or per capita changes. Net change matters.  Tonnes of green house gases, megalitres of water, tonnes of waste.  It doesn’t matter where it comes from, it matters what the cumulative impact is.

It’s a bit harder, but I’d advocate that your strategy uses absolute targets.