With all the rain we experience here in the UK it is easy to forget that water scarcity is a huge global issue, something that World Water Week importantly brought to the top of the agenda this month. The amount of freshwater available for each person has globally plunged by a fifth over the last two decades, and the Environmental Agency has warned the UK could see water shortages by 2050 if no immediate action is taken.
The soft drinks industry has a big part to play in ensuring it not only reduces its usage where possible, but also increases the efficiency of water intensive processes.
At Suntory Beverage & Food Great Britain & Ireland (SBF GB&I) we follow a philosophy of “Mizu To Ikiru”, which translates to “living with water”. It is a recognition that our business would not be possible without this precious natural resource and is a commitment to preserve water whilst making our iconic drinks which people throughout the UK and Ireland love. Our global CEO Tak Niinami believes we have to be a leader in advancing water sustainability – in his words - “it’s a must.”
Our organisation is determined to ensure we are Growing for Good - a vision that has led to some ambitious sustainability goals. In 2015 we globally set a target to reduce our water consumption by 15% by 2030. To date in the UK we have succeeded in reducing our consumption by 14.2%, which means we’re well on track to meet that target.
So, how have we got there?
New tech and factory efficiencies
Most of the changes start at our factory in Coleford, Gloucestershire, where we now source 60% of all our water from on-site boreholes. Our factory is located in the heart of the Forest of Dean, an area rich in biodiversity and a great source of natural water. It’s a constant reminder of the importance of preserving and cultivating natural water sources.
At the factory we are continually making investments in new technology and upgrading existing equipment to be more efficient in our water consumption. We’ve installed a new water recovery unit that stops wastage by recovering, treating and reusing any excess water. This simple closed loop cycle has in itself created a 2% water reduction across the site. We also use an innovative dry aseptic technology, which uses heat and pressurised air instead of water to clean bottles before they are filled.
There’s always more we can do to preserve this important resource, and we are keen to work alongside the rest of the soft drinks industry to further protect our precious water supplies. From our previous work in the area, and expertise gained from our parent company Suntory, we have identified a few key steps manufacturers should consider when evaluating their water usage.
1) Set clear targets
Any ambition needs clear targets, but it is especially important when looking at water conservation, as they should reflect the unique requirements of the surrounding watershed. As well as understanding how water is currently being used within the production line, it is important to consider the natural water cycle in the nearby area. This information can then be used to engage with scientific experts and members of the local community, to create tailored water initiatives that reflect everyone’s best interests.
2) Apply a sustainability lens
It’s easy to create a business case for implementing sustainability changes within the production line when they also improve productivity in some way, for example through speed or efficiency. When we were investing in our new high-speed bottling line at our Coleford factory we did just that. Not only does the line fill 55,000 bottles an hour, it also reduces the amount of water and energy needed to make each bottle by 40%, representing a 4.4% reduction across our entire site.
Finally, to truly reach a goal you must have the whole work force behind you every step of the way. All of our employees are not only aware of our Growing for Good vision, but are passionate about realising it. Part of the way we’ve achieved this is by offering everyone who works at the company sustainability online training courses, which helps them understand our mission and encourages them to join our journey.
Long term actions
Water is at the heart of the soft drinks industry and we need to take accountability for better management of this precious resource, which is why World Water Week shouldn't be the only time of the year that we reflect on this issue.
We need to work together to maintain valuable reserves of clean and abundant water for generations to come by adapting and finding new nature-based solutions that mitigate new challenges.
Taking action on water is something that all our businesses across the globe work towards, and it forms part of our Suntory 2050 environmental ambition which includes related water issues to tackle the climate crisis and decarbonise the entire business. This year Suntory has partnered with incredible organisations such as Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS) and Ocean Conservancy, partners who share our commitment to protecting this precious natural resource.
We encourage other soft drinks manufacturers to look at their water usage and ask themselves: Are we doing our best to protect the world for future generations to come? As our Suntory Holdings CEO Tak Niinami says, we must do more – and faster. And we can only do it together.