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.
While over the last 10 years we’ve been actively working to clean up rivers in Great Britain through campaigns like Treasure Your River in partnership with environmental charity Hubbub – the largest-ever collaborative push to prevent and reduce the amount of litter entering UK waterways – using water sustainably at every other touchpoint is essential to the future of our business, as well as the natural world, its people and wildlife.
To ensure that The Coca‑Cola Company makes a meaningful contribution to that goal, we created a water stewardship strategy.
Our current approach is designed around four strategies – protect, reduce, recycle and replenish – that touch every aspect of our operations, both inside and outside our factories.
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.
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.
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.
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 wastewater treatment system.
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.
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 took the form of a long-term partnership created in 2012 with 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.
This partnership with 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.
In 2020, our partnership took on even greater significance – and urgency. In the wake of COVID-19, and plans for a “green” recovery, the need to improve the quality of our ecosystems reached a tipping point. That’s why, building on our successful eight-year partnership with the Rivers Trust, we launched a new three-year programme focused on establishing nature-based solutions to water risks and challenges in urban and rural locations.
We are working with local Rivers Trusts like Thames21, South East Rivers Trust and Northumberland Rivers Trust. Together we’ll help replenish the aquifers and chalk streams in water-stressed areas in the South East and address the issues in flood-prone areas like the North East.
Already we’ve developing four wetlands in London encouraging whole new ecosystems to emerge, and already have 20 more planned further afield with the Northumberland Rivers Trust. We’ve engaged with thousands of farmers to encourage sustainable water use over 2,750 hectares and are adding more every year. And we’re helping restore the water table, sequester carbon, and improve habitats at the 100 acre Ham Fen nature reserve.
You can read more about our work with 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 of forms, including our RAIN project, which aims to connect six million people in Africa to fresh water this year.
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.