4 Lessons on Corporate Water Stewardship Inspired by Coca-Cola

Radhika Fox, CEO, US Water Alliance | August 30, 2016

At the US Water Alliance, we believe that securing a sustainable water future for all will take leadership and innovation from all, including the business community. From manufacturing and production to daily operations, all businesses rely on water. A successful business outlook depends on a sustainable water future. That’s why water has been a growing consideration in corporate bottom lines and corporate sustainability efforts.

On August 2, 2016, I joined leading sustainability thinkers in a discussion on water innovation, sustainability, and security hosted by Coca-Cola North America. It was fitting for Coca-Cola to host this dialogue considering their forward-thinking efforts in water sustainability. The company’s water strategy seeks to replenish the water they use, improve water efficiency, mitigate water risk, and safely return water by managing wastewater and stormwater onsite. Four lessons for other businesses to consider when developing a sustainable, effective, and impactful corporate water strategy came out of our discussions with Coca-Cola:

  1. Take a Systems Approach. For Coca-Cola, water stewardship is more than a conceptual commitment, it is deeply grounded in the way they do businesses. For example, several years ago, Coca-Cola set a system wide goal to create a process for water risk management across the Coca-Cola system. Today, this process is fully embedded across the corporation as a standard operating procedure. As a global company, ensuring sustainable water practices are adopted across plants, distributers, suppliers, and bottling partners all over the world is no easy feat. To do this, Coca-Cola has synced water sustainable practices with their standard operating procedures across the entire Coca-Cola system. 
  2. Name it. In order to guide their water strategy, each water sustainability tactic has defined and measureable goals associated with it. For example, By 2020, improve water efficiency in manufacturing operations by 25%, compared with a 2010 baseline. By 2020, safely return to communities and nature an amount of water equal to what we use in our finished beverages and their production. These goals are measurable, have deadlines, and progress is made available to the public as way for Coca-Cola to define success and hold themselves accountable to their commitment. Last week, Coca-Cola announced it has achieved and exceeded its water replenishment goals, the first Fortune 500 Company to replenish all the water it uses globally. But the company’s efforts don’t stop with that achievement.
  3. Partner for Maximum Impact. Coca-Cola North America knows that partnership is key to ensuring water quality and healthy watersheds, so they have partnered with other companies and nonprofit organizations to maximize benefits in the watersheds in which they operate. For example, in California, Coca-Cola is partners with a dozen organizations, including The Nature Conservancy, MillerCoors, Anheuser Busch, WWF, and others, on the California Water Action Collaborative to work on a range of projects to address water risks.
  4. Think within and beyond the fence line. In addition to Coca-Cola’s efforts to undertake water stewardship initiatives within their corporate system, they are also looking beyond their fence line to amplify their impact. On World Water Day 2016 (March 22, 2016), Coca-Cola announced a commitment at the White House Water Summit to establish 10 corporate partnerships by 2017 that engage local communities, government and business partners to expand sustainability in local watersheds across the United States. They are working with Bonneville Environmental Foundation and the Change the Course campaign to spark new partnerships and inspire water restoration efforts by corporations and organizations.  

Coca-Cola’s sustainability journey is a model for how water-reliant businesses have an opportunity and a responsibility to advance innovation and sustainable management of vital water resources. These principles are not exclusive to Coca-Cola and are increasingly being deployed by a number of organizations with a vested interest in a sustainable water future. Through forums like this, we can continue to learn from each other and identify opportunities for organizations and companies to act together to advance sustainable water practices.

Read more about Coca-Cola's water strategies here