Coca-Cola tackles water scarcity with Danube restoration project

Coca-Cola Enterprises has reinforced its global water stewardship efforts in a ground-breaking collaboration with WWF to restore vital wetlands and floodplains along the Danube River.

The seven-year partnership is the biggest single programme in Europe that The Coca-Cola Foundation has supported to date, with an ambitious aim to increase the Danube’s capacity by the equivalent of 4,800 Olympic-sized swimming pools (12 million m³) and to restore over 7,422 football pitches worth of wetland habitat (53 km²) by 2020.

“We’ve been working with the WWF since 2007 to help conserve freshwater resources around the world and to make meaningful changes to our business,” said Coca-Cola Europe’s director of community and environment Ulrike Sapiro. “We recognise that water is a scarce resource. It’s also the primary ingredient in our products.

“That’s why we are committed to continually improving how efficiently we use water, working with WWF to set ourselves ambitious global targets.”

Funding boost

The Danube, which is the European Union’s longest river, has seen 80% of its floodplains and wetlands disappear over the past 150 years. The effects have been wide-ranging and include plummeting fish and wildlife populations, decreases in water quality and damage to wetlands, which are no longer able to provide much needed biodiversity hotspots or to act as buffers to floodwaters.

A $4.4m grant from The Coca-Cola Foundation looks to change this; funding restoration in six countries over the next seven years. This will include measures such as removing dykes and dams to reconnect former floodplains and improve flooding capacity, reconstructing the wetland habitats of six threatened and endangered species and building a fish pass will be funded with Coca-Cola’s grant.

The director of the WWF Danube-Carpathian programme, Andreas Beckmann, said: “Together, the WWF and The Coca-Cola Company – alongside local authorities and organisations in the countries that the Danube River passes through – will conserve and restore these vital wetlands and floodplains for the benefit of people and nature.

“At the same time, we intend to create a regional movement for wetland conservation and restoration, as well as good water stewardship.”

Water neutral

This follows a similar initiative announced by Coca-Cola and the WWF last month, which will see CCE working to restore two river habitats in the UK which could potentially act as a template model as the company looks to scale up its water stewardship work across the business.

According to the firm’s latest Sustainability Report released earlier this month, Coca-Cola remains on track to become ‘water neutral’ by 2020, having last year returned 68% of the water used in its finished beverages to the communities it was taken from

But this lates announcement also comes in the same week that authorities in northern India have reportedly ordered the closure of a Coca-Cola bottling plant at the centre of protests that it is extracting too much groundwater.

According to the guardian, an anti-pollution official said the Mehdiganj plant in Varanasi in the state of Uttar Pradesh had breached the conditions of its operating licence, prompting the order closure earlier this month.

Luke Nicholls

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