Climate Change

Companies can help solve water scarcity. Here’s how

Maria Rita, 43, carries collected water at the Kaeta settlement in Maracas in Bahia state, northeast Brazil May 4, 2012. While a swath of the Brazilian Amazon is under a state of emergency as rivers overflow in one of the worst floods ever, the country's northeastern region faces its worst drought in the last 30 years, affecting well over 500 towns and cities, according to data from different government monitoring agencies. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes - S1AETQKGEKAA

Four billion people worldwide lack sufficient access to water. Image: REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes

Brian Newman
Executive Vice-President, Finance and Operations, Latin America, PepsiCo Inc.
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Climate Change

This article is part of: World Economic Forum on Latin America

Water is a human right and essential to life. Access to water is also closely linked to economic vitality, educational opportunity, and the health and safety of the world’s population. Yet water scarcity impacts about 4 billion people worldwide and about 500 million people live in areas where water consumption is more than double the locally renewable water resources.

Latin America has the largest amount of freshwater in the world. According to the Global Water Partnership, 28% of the world’s freshwater resources are in South America, however the region continues to experience deteriorating water quality from high rates of deforestation and soil erosion among other factors. At the same time, global warming is speeding up the melting of the glaciers supplying these water resources.

We need collective action to improve water resource governance and address water security challenges for all. Multi-stakeholder and multi-sectoral collaborations are needed if clean water is going to be secured, as are smart investments in proven and sustainable solutions to water scarcity.

Governments, civil society, academia and the private sector must work together to implement options to help address the challenge. Companies have unique capabilities and perspectives, and can play an important role in diagnosing and working to address the issues. Some of the issues that the private sector and collaborators can work on solving together are:

1. Agriculture

Globally, the agriculture sector consumes approximately 70% of the planet’s freshwater. Corporations can scale sustainable agriculture practices if we can work alongside committed farmers, expert NGOs, governments and others who have the knowledge and desire, and will work to bring about change.

2. Operational efficiencies

Companies can collaborate on leading technologies to provide operational efficiencies that have positive environmental and ROI benefits.

3. Water stressed aquifers

Watersheds and groundwater sources are shared resources. Whether through support of restoration projects or advocacy for smart water resource management, we must collaborate if we are to have a positive impact.

4. Access to water

Together with local governments and NGO partners, we should strive to respect everybody’s right to safe, sufficient, acceptable, physically accessible, and affordable water in the communities where we operate.

It is important for organisations to make their operations more efficient, which can have a significant impact on the environment. Our goal, for example, is to build on the 25.8% improvement in water-use efficiency achieved from 2006-2015 (in our legacy operations) and achieve an additional 25% improvement by 2025 in water-use efficiency in direct operations, with a focus on manufacturing operations in high water-risk areas. In partnership with our franchise bottlers across Latin America, we have achieved a 17.9% improvement in water use efficiency from 2008 to 2016 in the beverages business.

Global food and drinks companies need to consider water use and consumption in their own operations as well as water use across their value chain. For example, of our seven water goals under our Performance with Purpose 2025 Agenda, four look outside of our own direct operations: to the fields and growers in our agricultural supply chain, to the watersheds we depend on in high water-risk areas, and in the communities in which we operate.

Securing clean water requires smart and tailored upstream solutions to protect water at its source. Given the magnitude of that task, in Latin America, we have partnered with The Nature Conservancy (TNC) through our “Water for the Planet” partnership, collaborating to protect and replenish the critical watersheds that supply Monterrey, Mexico City, São Paulo, Guatemala City and Bogota. The collective work with TNC and others, including our peers, illustrates the benefits of collaborating to work to tackle some of the natural resource challenges we face today through smart and science-based solutions.

Water stewardship efforts are just one piece of the effort to curb environmental footprint. Carbon emissions, packaging, sustainable sourcing and waste management are also important focus areas. Sustainability fuels our business and we hope that companies like ours can lead the way.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

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