Coca-Cola exceeds water replenishment goal

30th August 2016

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Janine Nicholson

Global drinks giant Coca-Cola has exceeded its 2020 target to replenish all the water used in its beverages five years early.

The company said it returned an estimated 192 billion litres of water to nature and communities in 2015 through community water projects. The amount is the equivalent to 115% of the water at its plants.

The firm created the goal in 2007 and worked with US-based conservation organisation the Nature Conservancy and water specialists LimnoTech to develop a methodology for measuring water use.

Progress towards the target has been verified by Deloitte. According to the consultants’ report on performance in 2015, Coca-Cola increased water replenishment by almost 38.5 million litres compared with 2014; reduced annual sediment loads by around 2.66 million tonnes; cut the release of pollutants, such as nutrients and pathogens, by 88 tonnes; and provided almost 1.5 million people will full access to clean water.

Some of Coca-Cola’s projects return water directly to the source used, while others are outside watersheds used by its plants but help meet the needs of the local community, the firm explained.

Coca-Cola requires each of its 863 plants worldwide to determine the sustainability of the water supply they share with others in terms of quality and quantity, and issues such as infrastructure to treat and distribute water.

The plants must examine whether or not their use and discharge of water could damage the ability of local communities to access a sufficient quality and quantity. If a plant does it must develop and implement a source water protection plan, through which it will with engage others to identify solutions.

The replenishment target does not include water used in growing the crops used to make drinks. The company deals with this through its guidelines for suppliers.

The firm has in the past come under fire for unsustainable management of water, particularly in India.

In a blog on LinkedIn, Coca-Cola chair and chief executive officer Muhtar Kent said that controversies over water in India had been a 'wake-up' call for the company.

'Twelve years ago, our business was accused of misusing water in India during a time of drought. While we were ultimately found to be acting within the law and using our own water supplies, we suffered plant closures and our reputation was damaged. Some consumers walked away from our brands.

'Looking back, this was a difficult but important learning experience for us. The impact we felt went well beyond India. Back then, we were focused on water use inside our operations, but it wasn’t enough,' he said.

The company would maintain the milestone as it grew, he said. 'I predict that if you aren’t responsibly managing water in your business, you won’t be in business 20 years from now,' he added.

Carter Roberts, president and chief executive of WWF, said global water systems, from glaciers to estuaries, must be accounted for in order to secure access to fresh water for everyone.

‘This means partnerships matter. This is an important milestone in Coca-Cola’s continued leadership on water stewardship and sets a standard for other water users to build from,’ he said.


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