Nestlé Waters North America CSO: ‘Water is a renewable resource so long as you manage the supply properly’

By Mary Ellen Shoup

- Last updated on GMT

UN World Day takes place on March 22, a day meant to "highlight the importance of water," Switzer said. ©GettyImages/piangtawan chantaratin
UN World Day takes place on March 22, a day meant to "highlight the importance of water," Switzer said. ©GettyImages/piangtawan chantaratin
With an estimated value between $600bn and $1 trillion, coupled with its mounting infrastructure issues, the water industry is ripe for investment and technological solutions, Nestlé Waters North America (NWNA) VP and chief sustainability officer, Nelson Switzer, says.

“Even if it is at the low end of $600bn, that's quite a few shekels of opportunity that people can chase,”​ Switzer told BeverageDaily.

According to Switzer, there are two major opportunities that businesses can take advantage of within the water industry; the first is centered on data and technology.

In others words, “What is it that’s going to help us monitor and deliver water as efficiently as possible?”

“The second [opportunity] is in infrastructure. We have a massive water infrastructure gap in the United States and around the world,”​ he said.

For two years in a row, The American Society of Civil Engineers has graded the American water infrastructure system with ‘D’ letter grade. Additionally, a report by the Ecology Action Centre found that, for example, 18% to 40% of water was lost in Cape Breton Island of Nova Scotia, Canada, and that range is within the norm for most municipalities in North America, according to Switzer.

“The services that are required to investigate the leaks in our infrastructure, investigate the replacement needs, and then actually go in and develop that solution to either replace, repair, or roundabout those delivery tools… that's going to be, I think, enormous​. What we need though, is to address some of the systemic policy issues that stand in the way for municipalities being able to address it,” ​he said.

“The key point to remember is that water is a renewable resource so long as you manage the supply properly.”​ 

Those solutions are well under way, Switzer added, as many technological startups focused on the water business exist today, many of which are part of the Imagine H20 accelerator program.

Imagine H20 is a non-profit organization established in 2008 that is now in its ninth class of water startups and NWNA serves as one of the program’s partners.

“They have a huge opportunity to transform a lot of these emerging water startups into scalable high impact businesses,” ​Switzer said. “I believe the solutions are not just emerging, they already exist.”

Companies should be a partner, not an informer

NWNA has taken on the role of an educational partner in its corporate sustainability strategy and across its various environmental program initiatives to encourage collective action and engagement around water stewardship.

“It's not just about the policy and it's not just about the technology. It's also about the deployment of leading practices and sharing that's been going on,”​ Switzer said.

For example, NWNA implemented the Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS) Standard as a tool to help companies formalize their process for ensuring the sustainability of their supply and operations.

All five NWNA California water factories meet the AWS Standard, with its Cabazon facility achieving AWS Gold certification.

The company’s water reuse program across all of its factories has saved an estimated 60m gallons of water, Switzer added.

NWNA also follows a “Community First Principle”​ to help identify and develop spring water sources and publicly releases its process to connect and engage with the communities in which it operates.

“Part of the responsibility of the company is not just to set an example in terms of what does it mean to be a good water steward, but it's also to provide that basic fundamental education to the consumer so that they can understand and make clear decisions about who they choose to buy products from,”​ Switzer added.

The consumer’s role in water stewardship

NWNA has seen an evolution in consumer concerns surrounding sustainability when it comes to the products they choose to buy.

“The consumer who is doing research and looking for sustainability solutions or products and services that meet their sense of values, the shift we've seen is that they care more about a broader range of issues than they did in the past,”​ Switzer said.

Ten to 12 years ago, the consumer conversation was much more about carbon and energy use, but within the past four to five years NWNA has seen the dialogue shift towards the impact of a company’s supply chain.

“Much more recently we're really getting down to the ‘nitty gritty’ around water and people really want to know what is the impact of your operations on a local community when it comes to water.”

The reason for this change has to do with water being seen as an issue that needs to be solved locally.

“With water, while it's a global issue, its impacts are felt very locally,”​ Switzer said. “Now people are honing in on what's important in their backyard and recognizing the local impact. I think they care about global issues but much more in a local context than they have previously.”

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