Blog: It’s not Just Carbon that Counts
Today, the Carbon Trust issued a call for business to ‘wake up to water use,’ releasing new data that reveals that while international business leaders agree that carbon emissions are a priority, less than half recognize the need for action on water.
It also introduced a new Water Standard which assesses business performance on water reduction and the importance placed on water stewardship. Coca-Cola Enterprises was one of the first businesses to pilot and receive the standard, which evaluated our approach to water across our European operations.
It’s a welcome development to see the Carbon Trust widen its focus to include water and I believe the organisation can play an important role in pushing the business community to take action on water, as well as carbon.
At a global level, water stress and scarcity are an acute problem and one which is intertwined with the complex issues of food and energy security. According to WWF, the world uses over 70% of available freshwater for agricultural purposes - to irrigate the food (and increasingly biofuels) - used by a growing population. It is a complexity which I believe demands business attention and will require strong leadership and system-thinking.
At CCE, we operate in an area that, comparatively, doesn’t suffer from water stress. But last years’ experience in South East England (an area which happens to be a critical area for growing sugar beet, one of our main ingredients) saw us move rapidly from a drought scenario to severe flooding, underlining the fragility of the ground water sources we rely on.
As a company we are making good progress on water. I see this at first hand as I sit on our Water Stewardship Steering Group, which has worked hard to measure and understand the impact of our own business operations on local watersheds and the impact of the water footprint of our wider value chain. At CCE we have undertaken Source Water Vulnerability Assessments at each of our factories to assess the potential water risks to our business, the local community and the ecosystem, and developed protection plans.
Recently, our CCE factory in Dongen, Netherlands, was awarded the first ever Gold Level European Water Standard (EWS) Certification, which requires companies to move beyond mere water accountancy towards actively responding to local water challenges. We believe it is critical that businesses embrace a 360° approach to water stewardship. Both this and the Carbon Trust Water Standard indicate that we are moving in the right direction, but we have a long way to go before we achieve our goal of establishing a “water sustainable operation”.
To do so, we will need to push boundaries and work out how to overcome the important trade-off between water and carbon. In terms of water efficiency, we’ve set a stretch target of using 1.2 litres of water to make one litre of product (we are currently at 1.4) – but going beyond could have a significant carbon impact, simply due to the energy required to process and eliminate the remaining waste water. In terms of water replenishment, we’ve promised to return to nature the same amount of water as is used in our products, where we are sourcing from areas of water stress. We’re just getting started. Our partnership with WWF in Great Britain to undertake river restoration work in two English chalk stream rivers is a good first step. But to meet our target we will need to better quantify the various benefits which result from this type of work, including habitat and eco-system improvements, which go beyond a focus on water.
And what’s next? Technology is already playing an important but how can we push towards the next technological innovation which will assist businesses like ours in years to come? Will it be possible to reach a 1:1 water use ratio? Collaboration and innovation will be required to find answers to these questions, and it will be critical for the business community to be on the front foot in terms of understanding and valuing its use of water.
This is the first in what will be a series of blogs to provide comment and opinion on the latest developments in the world of sustainability – including policy developments, the latest trends and our successes and challenges here at CCE.
I’d propose an open discussion, so please do send over comments, ideas and contributions. While we are developing the ‘comments’ function on this website you can do so via Twitter to @JoeFranses.
Joe is Director of Corporate Responsibility & Sustainability at Coca-Cola Enterprises (CCE). His role is to continually evolve CCE’s sustainability strategy and to advise CCE on how to put sustainability at the heart of day to day business.