Environmental Targets And Objectives


To achieve effective results from your environmental efforts it is key that you set realistic environmental targets and objectives and implement relevant KPIs to measure your performance.

As the old business adage says: ‘you can’t manage what you can’t measure’.

This article sets out the key steps to consider when setting environmental targets and objectives.

Targets are a great way to focus people’s attention and create a shared vision for the future.

They are very useful in making the intangible seem tangible and are powerful communicators of your intent. In terms of sustainability targets there are two main types – relative and absolute targets.

Relative Targets

Relative targets use a measure of output to normalise the target.

In this way the target is dependent on changes in the output variable which makes it useful to measure year-on-year performance.

Typical examples include waste production per output of product, carbon emissions per staff member or charitable investment per $100,000 revenue.

Absolute Targets

Absolute targets refer directly to the measure of performance regardless of input variables. They are therefore independently derived and are best used as one-off targets.

Targets And Time

Targets are usually expressed as a percentage and are measured against a definitive timeline. Here are some examples of relative and absolute sustainability targets:

  • Relative targets: 10% reduction in carbon emissions per employee by 2013. 15% reduction in waste output per product produced in the next financial year
  • Absolute targets: 10% reduction in carbon emissions by 2013. 1% of pre-tax profits donated to a charity every year.

When deciding on your targets think which type – relative or absolute – best suit the thing you are trying to achieve.

Make sure you sense check your targets to understand what would need to change to achieve them.

Empty targets – ones which have not been thought out correctly or are blatantly unrealistic / relevant – will undermine the thing you are trying to achieve.

Implementing KPIs To Measure Performance

Implementing a KPI or key performance indictor is a great way to measure your performance and ensure that you are on track to hitting your target.

KPIs typically measure a key input to a target. KPIs without an overarching target are essentially a target in themselves.

When measuring performance it is important to consider three things:


This is the degree to which the indicator being measured has an important impact on your business. There is no point measuring water usage if your business only uses a small amount of water.

To ensure you capture material impacts think about which parts of your business have the biggest impact on the environment. For example, if you are an office based business your biggest impact could by energy usage from office equipment or travel from staff.

If you are a manufacturing business your biggest impact could be waste or water usage.


Choose indicators which are easy to measure.

Typically these are indicators where a lot of primary data is available in the business to inform your measurement. For example, it is likely that you could quickly find out your energy usage at a given time or the number of reams of paper consumed. It may however be more difficult to access data on staff commuting habits!


Your chosen indicator should inform an action of improvement that is possible, relevant and achievable.

There is no point measuring something just for the fun of it (unless of course if you are a geek and like measuring things). If you cannot do anything to improve the performance of your indicator then you are probably measuring the wrong thing.

Here are some good examples of indicators:

  • Volume of waste per completed product
  • kWh of electricity used per square metre
  • Number of paper cups used per day
  • Number of sick days per staff member

We hope that this article provides some food for thought when you next set environmental targets and KPIs.

Remember, first decided whether your target should be relative or absolute.

Next decide what KPIs can help you measure performance and make sure they are material, accessible and actionable.

About the Author Staff Writer

Our writers come from all over the world, but one thing unites them - their passion for sustainability.

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