As an avid catch and release fisherman, and in my position with Coca-Cola, I spend a lot of time thinking about water challenges while on the water. This past Sunday was World Water Day and while I stood in the sun-kissed sparkling waters of the Chattahoochee River in Atlanta, I took a moment to appreciate the progress we’ve collectively made in addressing global water challenges. And while we’ve come a long way, we need to continue to charge forward and collectively do more.
A look back
Over the last 30 years, water has grown as a top environmental concern of communities, governments, media and business; this shared concern has resulted in increased action across sectors.
In 2000, the introduction of the United Nations (UN) Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) established global recognition of social and environmental challenges, and a commitment toward significant progress by 2015. The goals on improving access to safe water and sanitation were critical, not only on their own but in their ability to positively impact other goals dependent on fulfillment of these basic needs.
Also greatly contributing to water progress was encouragement from investors for public companies to consider water scarcity and pollution issues and their connection to bottom lines. Today, public companies list water as a risk in reporting. In 2003, The Coca-Cola Company was among the first to report water quality and quantity as a material risk to its business in its Annual Report on Form 10-K, and we continue to include it as a risk today.
To address water risks, the private sector, especially the food and drink industry, has initiated water stewardship strategies and programs, and lent its expertise and thought leadership toward water solutions, in partnership with government and civil society. And, through civil society, we’ve seen a dramatic increase in water issue-related actions and new organizations, funding drives, awareness campaigns, and advocacy.
A look forward
All of this progress is important, and must continue. However, on World Water Day, it is also important to realise where we should direct our future focus. Moving forward, water can no longer be an isolated goal. The food-water-energy nexus will be the greatest sustainability challenge of the future, and the relation of the three and their interdependences must not be ignored.
In a world of growing populations, rising incomes, urbanization, and climate change, a world of abundant water, land, and energy resources aren’t available. Transformation in education, policy and governance (corporate and government), planning, and cooperation are required to adequately engage in the food-water-energy nexus.
As cross-sector partners continue to focus on water projects, they should aim to help communities mitigate and adapt to the impacts linked to the intersections of water, energy, and food. For example, partners could help increase crop yields for a growing population while reducing the impacts on water sources.
At Coca-Cola, we are taking our water stewardship efforts beyond our plant walls to our agricultural supply chains, helping and encouraging suppliers to improve efficiency and reduce their water use. As an example, we are working in China with Cargill, a key supplier to our business, and World Wlidlife Fund (WWF), a conservation partner, on a sustainable corn project to improve farmer livelihoods and protect biodiversity. In all, we have contributed to sustainable agriculture initiatives in more than 25 countries.
Supporting future developments
We also are focusing on further extending water stewardship efforts to local water sources and making water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) universally available. We share this focus with other organizations and private sector actors, and so we recently signed a joint statement from WaterAid and WWF supporting a dedicated WASH goal within the United Nation’s Sustainable Development framework. The statement also advocates for a holistic program that recognizes the interdependencies of WASH and freshwater ecosystems. Our bottling partners SABMiller and FEMSA are also signatories.
Looking ahead, September 2015 is critical in setting the stage for progress. That’s when the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will be agreed upon, hopefully taking the perspective of the food-water-energy nexus, acknowledging other interdependencies, and guiding us toward a healthy future.
In response to those goals, and always, it is important to remember that just as we shouldn’t view water isolated from food and energy, we shouldn’t approach our nexus efforts in isolation from each other. Only by working together, across sectors, governments and civil society, is positive change possible.