It is a thirsty world, with six billion people needing to drink an average 64 ounces of fluids each day. As the world’s largest beverage company, The Coca-Cola Company has been helping to quench that thirst for more than 120 years. Nearly 1.4 billion times a day someone enjoys one of our more than 2,600 beverages in the 200 countries where we operate.
The most important ingredient in all of the beverages we sell is water, so obviously access to clean, fresh water is critical to our business success. But more importantly, it is critical to the survival of all people around the world. That should make water a priority issue for us all.
Although water is one of the planet’s most plentiful natural resources – covering nearly 70 percent of the earth’s surface – less than 1 percent is available fresh water. More than one billion people do not have access to safe water today. More than half the world’s wetlands, which cleanse water and help control flooding, have been lost in the last century alone. Many of the world’s largest rivers often fail to reach the sea. Freshwater habitats and the species they support are among the most endangered in the world.
These are problems that need immediate solutions. As a company, we have placed a high priority on understanding our global water use and searching for new efficiencies in our operations. We recently announced our commitment to lead our global beverage operations, including our franchise bottlers, in replacing the water we use in our beverages and their production. Specifically, we’ve pledged to replace every drop of water we use in our beverages and their production; to achieve balance in communities and in nature with the water we use.
This new and am- bitious pledge grew out of our work with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and points the way to how private and non-profit sectors can and must work together to provide real and meaningful solutions to the world’s water needs.
This pledge is groundbreaking for us; it is a very aggressive and obviously aspirational goal. We will not reach this goal overnight – it will be a multi-year journey for our system – and we will not reach it without cooperation from our bottling and business partners, and collaboration with governmental and nongovernmental organizations and the communities in which we do business. We believe strongly that progress toward this pledge is our responsibility – and our opportunity – to make a tangible positive difference on this issue. It is our hope that this pledge will serve as a catalyst for other like-minded companies to take action.
Three areas of focus
Our efforts will center around three core areas:
- reducing the water used in the production of our beverages,
- recycling water used in our manufacturing processes, and
- replenishing water in communities and nature.
Reduce: We are setting specific water efficiency targets for global operations by 2008. These targets will build on what we have already accomplished in water-use efficiency over the past five years. Between 2002 and 2006, our volume of finished products grew almost 15 percent, while total water consumption – everything from bottle cleaning to finished goods production – declined more than 5 percent. More product. Less water. We will work to continue these improvements.
Recycle: We are working with our global bottling partners – nearly 900 plants – to return all water used in manufacturing to the environment at a level that supports aquatic life and agriculture by the end of 2010. This builds on work already underway. For example, while we always comply with local standards, our internal standards for wastewater treatment are even more stringent than regulatory requirements in many parts of the world. These higher standards are already being met by 83 percent of our company and independent bottler operations. We are committed to 100 percent compliance by the end of 2010.
Replenish: Our commitment to replenish means that on a global basis we will give back by supporting healthy watersheds and sustainable community water programs to balance the water used in our finished beverages. We will do this by working on a variety of local programs such as watershed protection, community water access, rainwater harvesting, reforestation and agricultural water use efficiency. We already support many such programs around the world, and we are committed to continuing and expanding these programs.
This pledge is part of a five-year, $20 million (U.S.) partnership with WWF to conserve and protect freshwater resources. WWF has long been a global leader in environmental sustainability, with a focus on protecting oceans and freshwater, saving species and slowing the rate of climate change.
By the end of 2010, our work with WWF will enable us to:
- measurably conserve seven key freshwater river basins;
- improve our own water use efficiency in our operations;
- support more efficient water use in our agricultural supply chain; and
- decrease our carbon dioxide emissions and energy use.
The river basins we’re focused on include those of the Southeast Asia’s Mekong, the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo of the Southwestern United States and Mexico, the rivers and streams of the Southeastern United States, the rivers of the Mesoamerican Caribbean Reef, the East Africa basin of Lake Malawi, the Danube and China’s Yangtze. These river basins cross 20 countries and face challenges that vary greatly. Several of our bottling partners are already working with WWF in these areas.
In addition, we are encouraging efficient water use with our suppliers, beginning with sugar cane. We are working with WWF’s Better Sugar Initiative to steward our supply chain’s use of water and to set measurable targets for improvement.
A climate of change
We also recognize the impact climate change has on our water resources, so we are working together with WWF on climate protection. We have already held energy and climate protection workshops for our bottling partners to help them understand how they can address these critical issues on a local scale. In the next year, we will be setting targets for climate-related emission reductions.
In addition to our partnership with WWF, we collaborate with other organizations to develop new solutions to protect the planet and its resources. For example, we co-founded the Refrigerants, Naturally! Initiative, an alliance within the food and beverage industry, to address global climate change through point-of-sale, HFC-free alternative refrigeration technology. This initiative earned a Climate Protection Award from the United States Envir-onmental Protection Agency in 2005 and is recognized as a Partnership for Sustainable Development by the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development. And it is endorsed by the United Nations Environment Programme and Greenpeace International. We’re also a signatory to the United Nations Global Compact, working to ensure adherence to the 10 principles of the Compact throughout our business.
We believe there is huge potential for The Coca-Cola Company, working with WWF and others to make a real difference.
Jeff Seabright is vice president, Environment and Water, The Coca-Cola Company. He has held several positions in government and business and in 1993, joined the U.S. Agency for International Development, later serving as Director of the Office of Energy, Environment & Technology. He moved to the White House in 1999 as Executive Director of the Climate Change Task Force and later joined Texaco as Vice President for Policy Planning.
For more information on Coca-Cola’s partnership with WWF visit www.cocacola.com; www.worldwildlife.org.