At Coca-Cola, we view water security as the most pressing risk climate changes poses for our company. Water is the main ingredient in the majority of our drinks, central to our manufacturing processes and needed to produce the agricultural ingredients on which we rely. Safe, accessible water is also essential to the health of people and communities, critical to ecosystems and indispensable for economic prosperity - all things our business requires.
We have a special interest in protecting local water sources that sustain communities because the communities that host our bottling plants are also our consumer base - we sell our products where we make them. So, while our water program at Coca-Cola is grounded in stewardship, we also have a vested business interest in working with others to help preserve and improve local water sources.
Though water stress continues to grow from the effects of climate change and growing populations, we believe the world has enough fresh water to meet growing demands if correctly managed and respected. For our part, we are focusing water stewardship efforts where we can have the greatest impact - improving water-use efficiency, managing wastewater and stormwater discharge at our manufacturing plants, mitigating risks through cross-sector partnerships, and replenishing the water we use back to communities and nature.
One of our key climate adaptation areas is our replenish strategy, which aims to replenish 100 percent of the water used in our finished drinks (that’s the products sold to consumers) back to communities and nature.
With the support of critical partners such as WWF, USAID, The Nature Conservancy, Water for People, UN-HABITAT, and the United Nations Development Programme, we have been able to replenish the water we use in our products back to communities and nature through 209 water projects that have transformed and empowered communities across more than 61 countries.
Because of these projects, we have balanced an estimated 94 percent of the water used in our finished beverages based on 2014 sales volume, for a total of 153.6 billion litres of water replenished to communities and nature. We anticipate reaching 100 percent replenishment by year’s end, five years ahead of schedule. We are also working on sustainable water resource management in our agricultural ingredient supply chain.
At our plants, approximately half of the water used in operations and product manufacturing is returned to the local environment through comprehensive wastewater treatment. Our replenish projects focus on the most relevant, local issues and many replenish to the same sources where we obtain water. However, in all cases, our source water protection program requires plants to work toward a sustainable balance among all community water users.
The replenish projects we engage in typically center on safe water access and sanitation, watershed protection, and water for productive use. Though not quantifiable from a replenish standpoint, our work importantly extends to education on and awareness-raising of water issues, including engagement on policy. In many cases, projects also help improve local livelihoods, assist communities with adapting to climate change, improve water quality and enhance biodiversity.
Our water stewardship programs are vital to business resiliency.
When it comes to water stewardship, we are enhancing our approach to consider the “water-food-energy nexus,” a defining sustainability challenge of the future. The interdependences of the three must be addressed. Doing so will require a transformation in education, policy and governance, planning and cooperation.
As government, intergovernmental organisations, civil society and businesses meet at COP21 in Paris over the next several days the nexus should be incorporated into climate discussions. Cross-sector partners working on water projects should aim to help communities mitigate and adapt to impacts associated with the intersections of water, energy, and food. Projects, for example, could target to increase the ability of watersheds to absorb threats associated with increasingly severe weather events, or reduce energy demands by promoting local water sources that eliminate the need to treat and transport water.
Water stewardship efforts must extend beyond company and plant walls to local water sources and to agricultural supply chains, helping and encouraging suppliers to improve efficiency and manage water sustainably. All of these efforts build resiliency, and set us on a path toward a more water-secure world.
What happens this week at COP21 could be a historic moment - for climate, for water, for resiliency - or not. The opportunity is there. For the planet’s sake, let’s hope it’s a hand-holding, agreement-signing kind of event. We’re all literally depending on it.
Greg Koch is senior director of Global Water Stewardship at The Coca-Cola Company. This article was originally published on the global Coca-Cola Journey website as part of a series updating Coca-Cola’s participation in events connected to the climate negotiations.