BEIJING Coca-Cola Co. faces a long-term threat
to its future from falling global water resources and will
reduce the amount of water that goes into making its drinks,
its chief executive said on Tuesday.
The world's top beverage company will also put more effort
into recycling the water it uses in manufacturing and spend $20
million protecting seven major watersheds around the world with
the World Wildlife Fund, said Chief Executive E. Neville
Isdell, at a news conference on World Environment Day.
"I don't see in the short, or even in the medium term, that
it's going to threaten our business, but in the long term it
is," Isdell told Reuters after making the announcement,
referring to water shortages.
"And if we don't get on with solving it now, then when the
long term arrives people are going to look over their shoulder
and ask who didn't solve the problem at the right time when it
was solvable," he said.
"It isn't a serious risk in terms of the sustainability of
the business today," added Isdell, who joined Coke in 1966 in
Drought, rising populations and overuse by industry and
agriculture means that by 2025 two-thirds of the world could
face a serious lack of water, according to the WWF. More than
one billion people have no access to safe water today.
Coke, which along with its bottlers used 290 billion liters
of water for beverage production last year, has itself been
accused in the southern Indian state of Kerala of helping to
suck the water table dry.
That plant has not operated for at least two years, and
Isdell said Coke had been found not responsible for depleting
the water table by the Indian government.
"If you're not welcome in a community, then you will
suspend your operations, which we've done," he told the news
conference. The Irish native said that while their new water
initiative would cut costs, there was another fundamental
business reason for doing it -- you can't work somewhere if the
community thinks you are hurting the environment and hates you
"If the communities around us do not flourish, and are not
sustainable, our business will not be sustainable in the
future," Isdell said. "If we do not act responsibly, that
society will not give us the social license in that broader
context to continue to operate."
More than half the water Coke used in 2006 was dedicated to
processes like rinsing, cleaning, heating and cooling, rather
than going into the drinks themselves.
The company has already made some improvements, and it now
only takes 2.54 liters of water to make one liter of Coke,
compared with 3.14 liters five years ago, Isdell said.
Coke's new measures include setting water efficiency
targets for global operations by next year, and aligning its
manufacturing system to return all water used in manufacturing
to the environment.
The Atlanta-based company will also expand support of local
water preservation efforts, like harvesting rain water,
reforestation, improving water efficiency in farming, Coke and
the WWF said in a statement.
(Additional reporting by Nick Zieminski in New York)