WWF and Coca-Cola Embark on Water Conservation Initiative
June 05 2007 |
by Surfrider Foundation
The Coca-Cola Company has been the target of a vigorous campaign in India, where communities near some of its bottling plants complain that the beverage company depletes and pollutes their water supplies.
Today at the WWF annual conferece in Beijing, the company pledged to lead its global beverage operations, including those of its franchise bottlers, to replace the water used in the company's beverages and their production.
As part of the initiative, the company has committed US$20 million to WWF. With the funding, the nongovernmental organization will work to conserve seven freshwater river basins, support more efficient water management in Coca-Cola's operations and global supply chain, and reduce the company's carbon footprint.
In 2006, company and its franchised bottlers used some 290 billion liters of water for beverages and their production. Coca-Cola produces more than 100 brands of beverages, including Sprite, Barq, Dasani and Fanta.
"Our goal is to replace every drop of water we use in our beverages and their production," said Neville Isdell, Coca-Cola's chairman and CEO. "For us that means reducing the amount of water used to produce our beverages, recycling water used for manufacturing processes so it can be returned safely to the environment, and replenishing water in communities and nature through locally relevant projects."
To reduce the amount of water used, the company pledged "to set specific water efficiency targets for global operations by 2008 to be the most efficient user of water within peer companies."
To recycle, the company pledged "to align its entire global system in returning all water that it uses for manufacturing processes to the environment at a level that supports aquatic life and agriculture by the end of 2010."
To replenish, the company said it will "expand support of healthy watersheds and sustainable communities to balance the water used in its finished beverages."
"The Coca-Cola Company is answering the call to help solve the global freshwater crisis through this bold partnership," said James Leape, director general of WWF International.
"The company is stepping into new and uncharted territory," said Leape, "and we look forward to working together to meet the bold commitments they have made to water stewardship."
The company will have challenging work to control its franchise bottlers, some of which are alleged to be violating environmental laws in India.
A team of investigators led by the India Resource Center released a report Monday on violations by a Coca-Cola bottling plant in Sinhachawar, Uttar Pradesh.
The investigators documented wastewater discharges into surrounding agricultural fields and a canal that feeds into the river Ganges, as well as illegal dumping of sludge on the plant's property.
"The Coca-Cola Company is announcing to the world that it is an environmentally responsible company, and it has partnered with UN agencies and NGO’s to paint a pretty green picture of itself," said Amit Srivastava of the India Resource Center.
But all that is corporate social responsibility gone wrong because the reality on the ground is different. It is littered with toxic waste and a complete disregard and destruction of the way of life as many people in rural India know it," Srivastava said.
In an address to the Nature Conservancy in Atlanta, Georgia in May, Isdell addressed the problems Coca-Cola is having in India over water.
"In India, we have been challenged to demonstrate our commitment to water stewardship," he said. "While we are not even close to being one of the largest users of water, we are certainly one of the most visible, and have been subject to criticism that we are depleting groundwater aquifers in the State of Kerala.
"Let me be very clear," said Isdell, "Coca-Cola has a shared interest with the communities where we operate in healthy watersheds - because they sustain life and our business. And the last thing we would ever do is spend millions of dollars to build a plant that would run itself dry."
He said the company is working with many partners in India to improve watershed management, and with the Central Ground Water Authority, local governments and communities to expand the use of rainwater harvesting technology.
"Society is just beginning to understand the world's water challenges," Isdell said today. "No single company or organization has all of the answers or holds ultimate responsibility, but we all can do our part to conserve and protect water resources."
"Our company will need time and cooperation from our bottlers, our suppliers and our conservation partners to accomplish the goal of replacing the water we use. We will be open about our progress and engage others to better understand what it takes," Isdell promised.
For its part of the initiative, WWF will focus on conserving seven of the world's largest watersheds - China’s Yangtze River, the Mekong River in Southeast Asia; the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo of United States and Mexico; the rivers and streams of the Southeastern United States, the water basins of the Mesoamerican Caribbean Reef, the East Africa basin of Lake Malawi, and Europe’s Danube River.
WWF says these waters were chosen "because of their biological distinctiveness, opportunity for meaningful conservation gains, and potential to advance issues of resource protection."
The Coca-Cola agreement is not the only featured event at the WWF annual conference. More than 200 delegates marked World Environment Day by attending a special forum in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, sponsored by WWF and China's State Forest Administration.
Former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan will give the opening address. He is expected to challenge nations and citizens to change the way they think about and use energy to halt climate change and create a more fair and equitable society for all.
The theme of the conference is "Living Within One Planet," and never has the need to do so been greater, said WWF International President Chief Emeka Anyaoku.
"If poor countries are to develop, rich countries maintain their prosperity, and emerging economies reach their full potential," he said, "then we must all embrace sustainable development. We simply cannot go on living beyond our natural means."