Coca-Cola declares water use and emissions goals

The world’s best-known drinks brand has extended its partnership with WWF, set revised carbon and water-use targets and agreed cooperation on supply chain sustainability and freshwater conservation plans.

Coca-Cola is aiming for a 20% improvement in global water use efficiency by 2012, a 5% cut in CO2 emissions from its plants in industrialised countries by 2015 and to globally "grow the business, not the carbon". The targets refer to a 2004 baseline and have been set in partnership with conservation charity WWF.

In 2004 the company and its franchised bottlers used 283 billion litres of water in beverage production. This rose by 6% to 300 billion litres by 2007, while sales increased by 14.9%. Coca-Cola says its water-use ratio (the amount of fresh water used to make 1 litre of beverage) fell from 2.70 to 2.47 over the same period.

Water use is expected to rise further by 2012 as sales continue to grow, but the efficiency target would lead to 50 billion litres cut from the increase by then, the company claims.

Jacob Tompkins, director of independent NGO Waterwise, welcomed the target, describing it as "a fairly significant commitment." He considers it achievable, but urged Coca-Cola to look beyond 2012. "There needs to be a programme of continuous improvement and long-term commitments," he said.

Coca-Cola says it will introduce water-use benchmarking efficiencies and new management practices, as well as identifying process and operational improvements. It has developed a software-based toolkit that will assist in calculating a plant’s water-use ratio, offer tips on improving water efficiency and detail the strategies adopted by other plants in reducing their water footprint.

The company’s huge water use has come under fire in the past - particularly in India - where it has been accused of diverting water from local agriculture and causing pollution to land and the water table (ENDS Report 392, pp 34-37 ). Its approach to achieving ‘water neutrality’ by pledging to replace the water used in manufacturing has also been questioned, as it ignores the company’s wider use of water, such as that required for growing sugarcane (ENDS Report 389, pp 6-7 ).

In 2004, the company’s global operational CO2 emissions were 4.72 million tonnes, comprising 2.47 million tonnes from developed countries’ plants and 2.25 million tonnes from plants elsewhere. Coca-Cola says that a ‘business as usual’ scenario would see its global CO2 emissions rising to 7.3 million tonnes by 2015. It claims that its interventions will limit global emissions to 4.7 million tonnes by then; largely unchanged from 2004.

Paul Dickinson, chief executive of the Carbon Disclosure Project, welcomed the company’s developed countries’ emissions reduction target of 5% by 2015, but said a lot more needed to be done. "Most of the science says we need much greater emissions cuts than this," he said.

As part of its partnership with WWF-US, Coca-Cola has agreed to provide a further $3.75 million in funding to the charity, extending its $20m commitment agreed in 2007 by two years, to 2012.

WWF in France reached a similar agreement with French cement giant Lafarge (ENDS 389, p 10). That deal saw Lafarge agree a seven-year partnership with WWF in 2000, committing it to cuts in CO2 emissions. Nevertheless, its global emissions rose by 19% on 1990 levels by 2006, fuelled by rapid growth in its Chinese operations.

In aiming to reduce Coca-Cola’s emissions, WWF will work with the company in raising energy efficiency, adopting clean technologies and reducing direct and indirect emissions. Qualitative and quantitative measurements will be taken to ensure targets are reached. Coca-Cola has also joined WWF’s Climate Savers Programme, whereby global corporations aim to collectively reduce annual carbon emissions by 14 million tonnes by 2010.

Muhtar Kent, president and chief executive of The Coca-Cola Company, said: "Our sustainability as a business demands a relentless focus on efficiency in our use of natural resources. These performance targets are one way we are engaging to improve our management of water and energy."

Carter Roberts, president and chief executive of WWF-US, added: "In this resource-constrained world, successful businesses will find ways to achieve growth while using fewer resources. The Coca-Cola Company’s commitment to conservation responds to the imperative to solve the global water and climate crisis."

Coca-Cola is also collaborating with WWF on supply chain sustainability and freshwater conservation. Sugarcane is the initial focus, with the partners working with the Better Sugarcane Initiative (BSI) in establishing standards, evaluating suppliers and setting goals for purchasing practices. Coca-Cola will source agreed volumes of sugar from sustainable growers, based on BSI established standards. The supply of two further commodities will be considered in 2009.

On freshwater, stewardship plans are being developed for operations located in key freshwater basins such as the Yangtze and Mekong catchments in China and south-east Asia, the Danube in central Europe and the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo in the US/Mexico. In each of these seven areas, projects are under development that will address issues of governance and management, resource protection, conservation and development, and biodiversity.

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