Coca-Cola Co. and its bottling partners expect to be replenishing 100 percent of the water used in their factories by the end of 2015, reaching a longstanding conservation goal five years ahead of schedule.
The beverage giant, which announced the replenishment target in 2007, said it’s already “balancing” about 94 percent of the water. That means Coca-Cola is offsetting each gallon it uses by recycling or conserving a gallon somewhere in the world. The company relies on a mix of systems to accomplish this, including waste treatment at its plants and reforestation projects that help restore watersheds.
“As a consumer of water, the Coca-Cola system has a special responsibility to protect this shared resource,” Chief Executive Officer Muhtar Kent said in a statement on Tuesday.
The project is meant to ensure the company will have enough water to meet its needs, as well as reassuring customers who may be concerned about drought in California and elsewhere. Coca-Cola had originally planned to be water-neutral by 2020.
Through 209 projects in 61 countries, the Atlanta-based company and its bottling partners have given back almost 153.6 billion liters of water. The Coca-Cola system has also recycled 126.7 billion liters of water after waste treatment. Combined, these numbers are set to meet the company’s goal by the end of 2015 based on 2014 sales volume.
The program isn’t philanthropic so much as a strategic business imperative, Greg Koch, global director of water stewardship at Coca-Cola, said in an interview. Local water access is vital to the company’s success, he said, since “the price point that we sell our products demands that we manufacture and distribute locally.”
When water supply is stressed, “that presents risks, risk to those communities, those ecosystems, and all businesses operating there -- including ours,” Koch said.
But there are some parts of Coca-Cola’s water use that may not be captured in the data, said Paula Rees, director of the Water Resources Research Center at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. The company’s agricultural water usage, for instance, may not be fully known, she said.
“There’s so much water that goes into a single product that it’s hard to capture all of the water footprint,” Rees said in an interview. “All of the water that’s used to grow the corn -- that goes into the fructose that sweetens the Coca-Cola.”
As part of its conservation efforts, Coca-Cola has teamed up with other organizations to increase water access and protect river basins.
“There are still watersheds -- regardless of how much we’ve replenished -- that have stress and therefore are risks to ecosystems and those communities and economies that we’re a part of,” Koch said. “We have to continue to do work well beyond any percentage of our sales volume because it is a vital business risk and a fundamental of our business model.”
Though it hasn’t made a high-profile pledge, PepsiCo Inc. also is working on water sustainability. The company is focused more on regional and local water-neutrality efforts, rather than a global goal. That includes agricultural efficiency, according to its website.
Food and beverage manufacturers like Coke and Pepsi have a huge water impact, so the efforts are very important, Rees said. “There’s always more work to do,” she said.