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Coca-Cola Gains Insight from Water Footprint Assessments

The Coca-Cola Company, together with the environmental group The Nature Conservancy, has conducted three pilot studies that look at the water footprint of Coca-Cola products and ingredients.

The report, “Product Water Footprint Assessments: Practical Application in Corporate Water Stewardship” (PDF) is comprised of three water footprint assessments, including a half-liter bottle of Coca-Cola produced in the Netherlands, beet sugar used in its European bottling plants, and two types of orange juice made for the North American market.

Both organizations said through their research they have gained important knowledge about the water footprint process and how the findings can improve Coca-Cola’s water stewardship strategies.

“We see significant opportunity to engage more directly with our agricultural suppliers to advance sustainable water use for the cultivation of ingredients in our supply chain,”  Denise Knight, water and sustainable agriculture director at The Coca-Cola Company told Canadean.

Knight explained that the firm’s initial efforts would focus on the sustainable sourcing of sugar cane, oranges and corn.

A product water footprint is the total volume of freshwater consumed, directly and indirectly, to produce a product. A full water footprint assessment considers the impacts of this water consumption on local watersheds, as well as appropriate response strategies to minimize those impacts.

Water footprint assessments can be helpful in supporting corporate water stewardship efforts by providing a tool to measure and understand water use throughout the supply chain. They provide valuable insight into the largest components and locations of water consumption, the potential effects on local watersheds, and future water availability to serve the collective needs of communities, nature, producers, suppliers and companies.

According to the report, the largest portion of the product water footprints assessed in the pilot studies comes from the field, not the factory.

“We see significant opportunity to engage more directly with our agricultural suppliers to advance sustainable water use for the cultivation of ingredients in our supply chain,” Knight said in a press release. “Our initial efforts will focus on the sustainable sourcing of sugarcane, oranges and corn.”

The report estimated that a half-liter of Coca-Cola has a green water footprint of 15 liters, a blue water footprint of 1 liter, and a grey water footprint of 12 liters. But the numbers mean little without the proper context, Nature Conservancy claims.

“More important than the numbers associated with a water footprint are the impacts of water use,” said Brian Richter, Freshwater Program Co-Director, The Nature Conservancy in the joint press release. “When properly managed, even large volumes of water use can be sustainable in locations where the resource is sufficient to support the use and sustain ecological health. The number associated with a water footprint is not the end game, but rather a starting point to addressing the sustainability of the water source.”

The MillerCoors brewery is another company that has made water stewardship a priority. In 2009, the company recorded a water usage ratio of 4.11 barrels of water per barrel of beer produced and continues to work towards its 2015 goal of reducing water usage by 15 percent to achieve a water-to-beer ratio of 3.50 to 1.00, the company said in a release. 

The brewery is also conducting water footprint research to identify additional water use reductions.

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