World Water Day and Corporate Social Responsibility

CSR-definitionWith the UN having declared March 22 World Water Day, we have recently seen a series of announcements of major corporate initiatives related to water stewardship.

In the UK: New Action Plan for water management in the food and beverage sector[3]

The food and beverage sector is well known as a major consumer of freshwater resources. Did you know that, across the entire supply chain, the global water footprint of one cup of coffee is 140 liters (~37 gallons), while one cup of tea is 34 liters (~9 gallons)?[1]

bitc-logoOn March 9 the UK organization Business in the Community (BITC) announced a new smart water report that has been endorsed by the National Farmers Union, the Food and Drink Federation, WRAP and the British Retail Consortium.[3] Its 6-step action plan provides a framework for food and beverage businesses – in cooperation with their suppliers — to improve water quality and reduce water usage across their operations.

Commenting on the report, Nestlé UK & Ireland’s chairman Fiona Kendrick said: “We have focused on improving the water efficiency across our operations and have already delivered a 45% reduction in absolute water usage, against an ambitious target of 50% by 2020 (compared to 2006).”

In the US: Veolia supports game-changing water management technologies

pow-logoInvisible bubbles to help the oil and gas industry recycle water, growing a valuable mineral from wastewater and using food waste to remove contaminants from water are the three winners of the “Pow! emPowering Opportunities in Water” competition that took place on March 8, sponsored by Veolia, The Water Council and the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC). The competition is part of a new program that helps startups to fast-track their water-related ideas by connecting them to Veolia and water industry experts who can support their company’s services, products and ideas.[5]

In China: Sembcorp Industries lays the cornerstone for its Nanjing International Water Hub[5]

sembcorp-logoSembcorp Industries is a major Singapore-based corporation (annual revenues: $9 billion) that provides integrated solutions to the utilities, marine and urban development markets. In honor of World Water Day, on March 22nd Sembcorp held the groundbreaking ceremony of its Nanjing International Water Hub (NIWH). The water hub, which is slated to be completed in 2018, is designed to host research facilities as well as business and conference space to facilitate the development and commercialization of new water technologies. A unique feature of the water hub is the Water Technology Innovation Centre, which will provide facilities to support performance tests on emerging water technologies in the lab and in the field.

Water CSR is a win-win proposition

csrBack in 2003 the Indian NGO Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) published a report that Coca-Cola’s products in India contained unacceptable levels of pesticides, the company extracted large amounts of groundwater and it had polluted water sources. The report had a dramatic impact on Coca-Cola sales in India and it also caught the attention of consumers in the US. After a series of student demonstrations, 10 American universities temporarily stopped selling Coca-Cola products in their campus facilities. In many ways the crisis was a wake-up call for Coca-Cola, which realized that its brand equity would suffer if it did not take dramatic measures to become a better corporate water citizen.[2]

In the following charts published by Coca-Cola in 2014, the company proudly shows the progress it has made in water usage and water replenishment[4]:

The number of liters of water it takes, on average, to produce 1 liter of Coca-Cola

coca-cola-water-usage

coca-cola-water-replenishment

Clearly a business’s first responsibility is to create value for its owners and shareholders. But CSR in general and, in relevant industries, responsible corporate water stewardship is a good business practice that benefits us all.

References

[1] Stine Mari Harildstad, Water Management and Corporate Social Responsibility (Master’s Thesis), June 2014
[2] Cristina A. Cedillo Torres et al, Four Case Studies on Corporate Social Responsibility: Do Conflicts Affect a Company’s Corporate Social Responsibility Policy?, Utrecht Law Review, November 2012
[3] Edie Newsroom, Food and drink firms urged to promote water stewardship across supply chains, March 9, 2016
[4] Edie Newsroom, Coca-Cola ups water efficiency 10%, lags behind emissions targets, July 31, 2015
[5] Jessica Lyons Hardcastle, Veolia, Partners Fast-Track Water Management Technologies, March 8, 2016
[6] Benjamin Tan, Sembcorp holds groundbreaking of water technology hub in China, March 23, 2016

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