Leaders from government, business, academia and civil society gather this week in the Brazilian city of Brasília for the 8th World Water Forum. The international conference on water policy and resource management takes place every three years during World Water Week and is organized by the World Water Council.
The 2018 edition of the forum has the motto "Sharing Water". It will discuss the various aspects of fair water stewardship through political and regional discussion processes, side events, a citizens' forum and an exhibition. Coca-ColaBrazil and its Crystal water brand are sponsoring the event.
Bea Perez, Coca-Cola's chief public affairs, communications and sustainability officer, will represent the company at the World Water Forum, which runs through Friday. We spoke to her about her expectations for the event.
What is the importance of an event like the World Water Forum?
Collaboration is key to achieving results on water-related issues. While we have strong relationships with the communities in which we operate, we have found that collaborative thinking and action by business, government and civil society is more effective – and necessary – to find sustainable, long-term solutions that address the Meet the needs of every community. As the world's largest water-related event, welcoming experts from almost every field, the World Water Forum provides the perfect setting to drive knowledge-sharing and connect ideas and action. Venues like the World Water Forum also give us the opportunity to examine the progress and scalability of private and public partnerships.
What do you expect from the event in Brazil?
As a beverage company, we recognize the essential nature of water in promoting healthy ecosystems, communities, businesses, agriculture and commerce. We respect human and environmental needs for water and adhere to industry-leading water goals. During the World Water Forum in Brazil, we will engage in ongoing discussions about the pressures and opportunities to improve access to water and sanitation, and to fund the water needs of increasing urbanization and the impacts of climate change. Overall, this forum is about how we can work together to ensure the long-term availability of this critical resource.
TheCoca-ColaCompany has many partnerships with conservation and water access projects around the world, but what about Latin America specifically? Can you name some outstanding projects and partnerships in this region?
Our work on water is designed to ensure we use water more efficiently and that communities have affordable, sustainable access to water. In Latin America, Agua por el Futuro is a signature program that works with local organizations such as the Amazon Sustainable Foundation and The Latin American Water Funds Partnership. By protecting watersheds, protecting the environment and reforesting, we bring billions of liters of water to nature across the region.
Responsible water management inside and outside our facilities is a top priority for TheCoca-ColaCompany and is key to our sustainability efforts. In Brazil and Mexico, our production facilities have increased efficiency by over 30 percent over the past 10 years. In Central America and the Andes we have a water use efficiency of 55 percent. This contributes to our global water savings of almost 30% per liter of product produced over the last 10 years.
We are also rehabilitating water systems to ensure access to water for more than 100,000 people in the region. Projects include rainwater harvesting, sewage and treatment plants, and community resources and training. One of our signature programs supporting this work is Lazos de Agua.
When we step outside of our direct operations to address water issues, we step into a shared environment to protect a shared resource. Water is the ultimate commons, and in any location, all water users share the supply and share responsibility for its stewardship. That's why we work with The Nature Conservancy, Catholic Relief Services and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), as well as with government agencies to ensure maximum impact and sustainability.
When we talk about water issues, it's common to think of governments and NGOs. But how can companies contribute to solving these challenges?
It is important for businesses to understand their water usage, where their water comes from and what the risks are between usage and the available supply. In particular, companies should first focus on water use in their direct operations by first measuring water use, working towards better efficiencies and ensuring that their wastewater and stormwater discharges do not have a negative impact on the environment. Once they have that foundation, businesses outside of their property line should look at the watershed they share: upstream at how water is used in their supply chain, and downstream at where their goods or services are used by others. All parts of this value chain will use some water and are likely to face challenges.
A company can then weigh the risks and rewards of these challenges and develop a comprehensive strategy to address them. Our replenishment program caters to our finished product sales volume, which is essentially our consumptive water usage. Non-product water is properly treated and returned to the environment on site. Other companies may find that addressing their consumptive use in terms of quality and quantity provides an easy-to-understand and powerful way to motivate their teams to mark progress and measure the positive impact of their actions.
Why is TheCoca-ColaCompany concerned about water issues? What does this have to do with the company's business?
Water is essential. It is critical to humankind and ecosystems, essential to economic prosperity, and vital to our business. At Coca-Cola, water is the key ingredient in almost all of our beverages, central to our manufacturing process and necessary to growing the agricultural products we use.
We have a particular interest in protecting the local water sources that feed the communities that host our bottling facilities, as they are also our consumer base - we sell our products where we make them. If these communities stay strong, our business will stay strong. As such, alongside the environmental and ethical imperatives that drive our water stewardship efforts, we also have a personal business interest in helping to conserve and enhance local water sources.
TheCoca-ColaCompany recently announced an ambitious goal for packaging recycling. How does this goal relate to the water issue?
As we continue to evolve into a comprehensive beverage company, we have the opportunity to grow our business by making more beverages, for more people, in more places. With this opportunity for growth comes responsibility—doing the right thing for our planet, our communities, and our business.
Our World Without Waste packaging vision and global water stewardship program share the same premise – grow with conscience. We invest in programs, partnerships and innovations to reduce our waste and protect our planet.
Does TheCoca-ColaCompany have specific water conservation goals and access plans?
Yes. Our water stewardship program focuses on respecting water as a shared resource. To achieve this, our water targets are ambitious and focus on efficiency (using less water per liter of product produced), risk management, wastewater treatment and reuse, and replenishing the water we use for communities and nature by 2020. In 2015 we have we became the first Fortune 500 company to refill the same amount of water we use, and we continue to do so to this day. With agriculture accounting for 70 percent of global water withdrawal, we are also committed to sustainably sourcing key agricultural ingredients for our products.
TheCoca-ColaCompany is part of communities around the world. How can the company use this presence to work with communities on the water issue?
Our programs take many forms, from providing safe access to water and education to advocating for the necessary water policies. The only constant is the partnership. No actor can do it alone. We work with partners from government, civil society and the private sector. We make the greatest impact through our community water programs. They involve more than 400 partners in communities around the world.
One of our largest collaborations is with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and our bottling partners. Together we founded the Water and Development Alliance (WADA) in 2005 to protect and improve the sustainability of watersheds, improve access to water and sanitation, and improve the productive use of water in 30 countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the United States improve middle east . Since its inception, a total of more than $30 million has been invested to help WADA improve access to water for more than 600,000 people. improved sanitation for more than 250,000 people; and improved the management of over 440,000 hectares of land. For example, in Tarija, Bolivia, WADA supported the local water stakeholder forum PROAGUA to promote improved watershed and water resource management in a catchment area that serves more than 150,000 people.
Any last message?
Beyond all numbers and progress, the real beneficiaries are people and the environment. I have seen firsthand the difference such work makes. In China, for example, I saw how happy school children and their teachers were when we completed a safe water access system for their campus. I've heard women and farmers in India tell how their livelihoods have improved after water storage systems were installed to catch monsoon rains. And I've learned how strong all members of a community become when their basic water needs are met.
I hope that the forum will bring more focus to how everyone can achieve more together. How we can work to achieve the goals set out in the Sustainable Development Goals; identify new, innovative ways to address water issues; and work together to protect ourselves from the effects of climate change that continue to affect the world and the resources we share.