The last week of August saw Coca-Cola make a monumental announcement – it expects to replenish all the water it uses to produce its beverages by the end of 2015, five years ahead of schedule. Based on last year’s figures, this equates to over 305 billion litres of water. Being such a significant consumer of water, this is Coca-Cola’s primary material sustainability issue so it is essentially expected that they take this on this leadership. But this article looks at some of the other wonderful sustainability stories in water from companies such as Nestle, Unilever and Hilton.

"Newtown Creek 02.jpg" by Victoria Belanger on Flickr
“Newtown Creek 02.jpg” by Victoria Belanger on Flickr

More on Coca-Cola’s excellent news

According to my reference Guardian Sustainable Business, Coca-Cola has achieved this through project development and partnerships. It has over 200 community water projects across 61 countries. These address watershed protection and access to safe drinking water through these projects. A specific example project being wastewater treatment plant installations. A couple major partnership examples include the The Nature Conservancy, United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the United States Agency for International Development.

Nestle’s “zero water” plants in Mexico and California

Last year, Nestle opened its first “zero water” plant in Mexico. According to its press release announcement in May, it plans to do the same throughout California. According to Nestle, “zero water” is defined as not using any local freshwater resources for its operations. For locations such as Mexico and California, this is important given the scarcity of water and propensity to drought.

Nestle plans a three-pronged approach: one, opportunities to optimise process; two, opportunities to reuse; and three, opportunities to extract water from raw materials. Some examples of existing innovations have included extracting all water from milk used in the dairy manufacturing process and an anaerobic digestion system. As with Coca-Cola, partnerships are fundamentally supportive, with Nestle cooperating with the World Resources Institute and the Alliance for Water Stewardship.

" California Drought" by John Weiss on Flickr
” California Drought” by John Weiss on Flickr

The Future Shower Challenge on Unilever’s Foundry Ideas platform

Foundry Ideas is Unilever’s platform for idea generation, collaboration and connection on innovations to make sustainable living more mainstream. The public is able to create an account, add an idea, improve or critique others’ ideas, and then vote for the best ideas. These ideas fit under challenges, one of which is the Future Shower Challenge. This theme is about designing a shower which reduces the amount of water used while preserving or increasing the quality of experience. Winning ideas are invited to work with Unilever to develop their idea.

What’s in it for Unilever? Besides having a strategy which ticks the cool contemporary buzzword boxes of “ideation”, “social innovation” and “crowdsourcing”, the company is hoping it will add momentum to its Sustainable Living Plan. As Sue Garradd, Senior Vice President, Sustainable Business Development and Communications, says, “We have made huge strides in our factories and with our suppliers.  The next stage is to find people with new and innovative ideas so that together we can help transform the way we live our daily lives, for us all to become more sustainable” (Source: Triple Pundit).

Water stewardship partnership between Hilton Worldwide and WWF International

Keen to build on its solid existing strategy around sustainable housekeeeping products and water-efficient shower heads, Hilton announced to GreenBiz in June that it plans “to reduce water consumption by developing a multi-year water stewardship strategy” (Jennifer Silberman, Hilton Worldwide International’s VP of Corporate Responsibility) with WWF’s support. This involves the relationship between food waste and water usage, measuring and tracking water usage via its LightStay platform, and “look[ing] at supply chain inputs, property locations, and geographies with high water risk” (Sheri Turnbow, Senior Director of Private Sector Engagement for WWF International).

Some quick conclusions

Untitled by rjcox on Flickr
Untitled by rjcox on Flickr

As demonstrated in this small sample, there is a common reliance on “outside help”. All case studies except Unilever rely on partnerships with consultants and/or not-fot-profits, while Unilever uses public crowdsourcing. Coca-Cola and Nestle utilise innovations in engineering to achieve its lofty goals, which Hilton Worldwide is on the pathway towards. Unilever are taking on engineering innovation too, but from a product perspective.


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