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Coca-Cola to engage with suppliers to cut water use

By Guy Montague-Jones , 14-Sep-2010

The Coca-Cola Company plans to increase its engagement with suppliers of sugarcane, oranges and corn in an effort to reduce its water footprint.

In a report published with the environment charity Nature Conservancy, the soft drinks giant calculated the direct and indirect water footprint of a 0.5 litre bottle of Coca-Cola produced in the Netherlands, beet sugar supplied to its European bottling plants; and Minute Maid and Simply Orange produced for the North American Market.

By far the largest portion of the product water footprints calculated in the research came from the field rather than the factory, prompting Coca-Cola to promise more engagement with suppliers on the subject of water usage.

“We see significant opportunity to engage more directly with our agricultural suppliers to advance sustainable water use for the cultivation of ingredients in our supply chain,” said Denise Knight, water and sustainable agriculture director, The Coca-Cola Company. “Our initial efforts will focus on the sustainable sourcing of sugarcane, oranges and corn.”

As well as looking at direct and indirect water consumption, Coca-Cola also considered separately the different types of water used. The three types considered were:

  • Green water: Rainwater stored in the soil as moisture
  • Blue water: Surface and ground water
  • Grey water: The volume of freshwater required to assimilate pollutants based on existing ambient water quality standards

Coca-Cola said this approach allows for a more insightful assessment of how water affects local watersheds where water is being sourced. Some of the main results of the research are summarised below:

  • 0.5 litre Coca-Cola drink: The green water footprint is 15 litres; the blue water footprint is 1 litre; and the grey water footprint is12 litres.
  • Sugar from sugar beets across Europe: The green water footprint is 375 liters/kg sugar; the blue water footprint is 54 liters/kg sugar; and the grey water footprint is 128 liters/kg sugar.
  • Simply Orange sourced from Florida: The green water footprint is 386 litres per litre of product; the blue water footprint is 154 litres per litre of product; and the grey water footprint is 100 litres per litre of product.
  • Minute Maid sourced in Florida and Costa Rica: The green water footprint is 319 litres per litre of product; the blue water footprint is 115 litres per litre of product; and the grey water footprint is 84 litres per litre of product.

Although the water usage levels varied significantly between different products, The Nature Conservancy said the overall numbers are less important than the local impact of water use.

Brian Richter, freshwater program co-director, The Nature Conservancy said “When properly managed, even large volumes of water use can be sustainable in locations where the resource is sufficient to support the use and sustain ecological health.”

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