As well as being at the heart of everything we do at The Coca Cola Company, water is crucial for the life and communities our planet sustains.

So it should not be a surprise that everywhere we operate around the world we view water as the precious resource it is and one that we have a responsibility to look after.

Using water sustainably is essential to the future of our business as well as the natural world, its people and wildlife.

As I post this for World Water Day, with its theme of ‘leaving no one behind’ and its focus on the sustainable management of water for all by 2030, it feels like a timely moment to reflect on some of the work we’re doing to ensure that The Coca-Cola Company makes a meaningful contribution to that goal.

Our current approach to water stewardship is designed around four strategies – protect, reduce, recycle and replenish – that touch every aspect of our operations, both inside and outside our factories.

1. Protect

Our stewardship of water begins at its source, where we have put together a series of carefully tailored plans to protect the water we use.

Each of our manufacturing sites has a bespoke ‘Source Vulnerability Assessment’, which assesses potential future risks to water quality and availability – both for our manufacturing and the wider watershed the water comes from.

Broadland Rivers catchment, East Anglia

Broadland Rivers catchment, East Anglia

Hugh Mehta/WWF

We use data from global water risk surveys, like the World Resources Institute’s Aqueduct project, to inform these assessments and to then devise specific Source Water Protection Plans.

In Great Britain, even though we’re all used to rain, three of our factories – Milton Keynes, Edmonton and Sidcup – are in fact situated in areas of recognised water stress because of high population density and demand for water from agriculture. Our protection plans are reviewed regularly and updated as necessary because of this.

2. Reduce

We want to reduce the amount of water we use in manufacturing our drinks: in Great Britain we have a target of a 20 percent reduction by 2025 (compared to 2010). While there are obvious economic benefits to this, the environmental ones are just as compelling. Which is why we’ve invested millions in new technology at our sites to reduce our overall water use.

That might include introducing automated bottle washers with smaller holes in the spray nozzles, or innovative air rinsers that clean bottles without water. Any new machinery we introduce will always be designed to use less water than the equipment it replaces. And we harvest rainwater at our sites to use for hand washing, toilet flushing and floor cleaning.

WWF and Coca-Cola Great Britain renew partnership to protect precious UK river habitats
The work that the WWF and Coca-Cola Great Britain are doing will help protect UK river habitats for another 3 years

We’re proud that our local bottling partner, Coca-Cola European Partners, has been awarded an A rating in the global CDP Water List for the third year in a row in 2019, while The Coca-Cola Company achieved an A- rating globally. Both scores are testament to the importance we place on water stewardship throughout our business.

3. Recycle

In Great Britain, our use of water is one of the most efficient in the global Coca-Cola bottling system, with a water use ratio of around 1.3 litres per litre. That means for every litre of drink we make, an additional 0.3 litres of water is used to manufacture it.

All water used in the manufacturing process is cleaned and safely returned to the environment, with many of our manufacturing operations also pre-treating it on site, before sending it into the municipal waste water treatment system.

At one of our sites in Germany, we even keep fish in one of our waste water treatment tanks as an indicator of the water quality!

4. Replenish

In 2007, we made a global commitment that by 2020 we would replenish all the water we used in the production of our drinks – returning to nature and the communities an amount equivalent to all the water we use in manufacturing.

We worked to meet this goal by supporting conservation programmes around the world. For example, creating new wetlands or making measurable improvements to water quality and quantity in a watershed; supporting farmers to farm in more soil-sensitive ways; and improving community access to clean water and sanitation.

Personally, I find this work so inspiring. With the help of many cross-sector partners and NGOs – including WWF, the United Nations Development Programme and Water for People – and using methodologies developed in partnership with the Nature Conservancy and LimnoTech, we achieved our goal five years ahead of schedule in 2015.

In Great Britain, our replenish programme takes the form of a long-term partnership created in 2012 with WWF UK and the Rivers Trust. This has seen us working to restore and conserve chalk stream rivers in East Anglia – an agricultural region where we source much of the sugar beet used in our drinks.

The Ham Fen ancient semi-natural fenland in Kent, England 

Around 85 percent of the rivers in GB are in poor health – suffering from over-abstraction and pollution from agricultural pesticides and fertilisers. But by supporting a team of trusted farm advisers in two major catchments in East Anglia, our partnership has engaged 2,500 farmers and successfully returned more than 1 billion litres of fresh water to the environment. By installing interventions, such as silt traps, and changing farming practices to improve soil and water quality, such as using cover crops, we are truly making a difference.

This partnership with WWF UK and the Rivers Trust has served as a catalyst for water stewardship across East Anglia and beyond, with our funding also establishing the Water Stewardship Service. This is helping more food and drink businesses to invest and work collectively to deliver sustainable solutions that improve water quality and quantity in key supply chain catchments. You can read more about our work with the WWF and the Rivers Trust here.

Beyond Great Britain, we support more than 250 water partnership projects in 2,000 communities around the world. These projects replenish around 250 billion litres of water per year. They take a myriad forms, but one of my favourites is our RAIN project, which aims to connect six million people in Africa to fresh water by 2020.

We know that much more remains to be done and our work continues. As we seek to grow our business sustainably and contribute to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal Six (Clean Water and Sanitation), we are in the process of updating our global water strategy to help ensure that we and the communities we serve are prepared for the years ahead ­– and that no one is left behind.