Waters from the Mink River and Lake Michigan
Mink River Waters from the Mink River and Lake Michigan combine to form this freshwater estuary, Door County, Wisconsin. © Clint Farlinger

Companies Investing in Nature

The Coca-Cola Company

Water Stewardship and Replenishment

The Challenge – Protecting Freshwater

Water is the most precious resource on our planet. At The Coca-Cola Company, water also is a key ingredient in every beverage made, and a critical resource in the supply chain. It is essential to company operations and the well-being of the communities and ecosystems where they operate. In the coming years, water supply and quality problems are expected to grow increasingly with a predicted two-thirds of the global population living in water stressed areas by 2025.

The Commitment

In 2007, Coca-Cola announced a sustainability effort to “return to nature and communities an amount of water equivalent to what is used in finished beverages” by the year 2020. Understanding their dependence and impact on water resources around the world, The Coca-Cola Company enlisted the expertise of The Nature Conservancy to help quantify the amount of water returned to nature and communities as “replenishment credits” that the Company could claim as a result of their investment in hundreds of local community watershed projects around the world. In these projects, activities are being undertaken to either: provide local communities with access to water supplies needed for drinking or farming; or restore watershed conditions or improve water use practices to reduce water consumption, thereby leaving more water available to support ecological health of rivers, streams, and lakes. The Nature Conservancy’s water experts worked with an outside consultant (LimnoTech Inc) to develop technical methods for quantifying replenishment credits, and applied those methods to more than 250 projects wholly or partly funded by The Coca Cola Company or its Foundation. The replenishment credits gained from these watershed projects are counted against the volume of water consumed in the Company’s bottling facilities. This analysis revealed that the company will have achieved an estimated 42% of its replenishment goal by the end of 2013.

Solutions in Action

As part of the replenishment program, the Coca-Cola Foundation has granted more than $2 million to support nine TNC freshwater replenishment projects in watersheds throughout North America; the Etowah and Flint Rivers in Georgia, Michigan’s Paw Paw River, the Trinity and Brazos River Watersheds in Texas, the Everglades Headwaters in Florida and the Sacramento River Watershed in California. Through this support, the Conservancy is completing watershed restoration activities, informing policy initiatives and working with farmers and landowners on best management practices.
Over the past two years, The Coca-Cola system and the Conservancy have also undertaken three water footprint studies:

  • Coca-Cola® in a 0.5 liter PET bottle produced by Coca-Cola Enterprises Inc. (CCE) in the Netherlands;
  • Beet sugar supplied to Coca-Cola bottling facilities in Europe; and
  • Minute Maid® orange juice and Simply Orange® produced for the North American market.

A “water footprint” assessment can tell the company how much water is required to produce the products that it sells. Water footprinting builds on the concept of “virtual water,” which refers to the water “embedded” in a product; that is, water that is consumed in direct operations and throughout the supply chain. A water footprint of a product considers both direct (operational) and indirect (supply chain) water use. It also refers to where and when the water was used. Further, a “water footprint sustainability assessment” can inform a company about the possibility of running out of water because of overuse in the watershed, or whether their water use might be causing undesirable ecological or social impacts that could put a company’s reputation at risk.

Some of the key observations from those studies include: 

  • By conducting a water footprinting assessment on a product you have the ability to separate out water use by component, and assess impacts in the context of the local watersheds. This is also helpful in improving internal understanding of water use.
  • While the operational water footprint is relatively small, it remains important for businesses to manage their direct/operational water impacts, especially with regard to wastewater treatment. Response actions should start with a company’s own operations and include collaborative efforts to help protect the local watersheds where it operates.
  • To understand the true water use impact, consumption must be considered with the cumulative context of all water uses in a watershed. When properly managed, even large volumes of water use can be sustainable in locations where the resource is sufficient to support the use. Water is a local issue, and impacts should be monitored on a number of levels and at multiple locations and varying times.
A Sustainable Future

To date, the “replenish” water stewardship program has led to the support of more than 380 Community Water Partnership (CWP) projects, including a range of activities in four main project types: ‘Access to Water and Sanitation’, ‘Watershed Protection’, ‘Water for Productive Use’, and ‘Education and Awareness’. These activities provide many important benefits to local communities and watersheds, and some provide a water quantity or quality benefit.

Coca-Cola’s current estimate is that projects implemented by the end of 2011 have “replenished” more than 50 billion liters to communities and nature, representing approximately 35% of the water used in finished beverages in 2011. Based on the projection of current projects, by 2013, CWP projects will “replenish” approximately 67 billion liters per year, representing 42% of the company’s water use.
Coca-Cola and the Conservancy will continue to calculate water quantity and quality benefits each year from new and expanding activities in the Company’s Replenish projects.

As the Conservancy continues to support Coca-Cola’s water goals, focus also remains on raising global awareness and inspiring action on the importance of water stewardship; and driving toward a truly water sustainable business model on a global scale by expanding efforts to address water risks through source water protection.