Coca-Cola’s river restoration work may shape sustainable water strategy

Coca-Cola Enterprises (CCE) is 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.

CCE is working with WWF on a three-year project to conserve freshwater resources in two chalk stream catchments, both of which are directly linked to CCE’s bottling operations. One is in Norfolk, on the River Nar – the source of some of the sugar beet used in Coca Cola drinks – and the other is in South London, near to CCE’s manufacturing site on the River Cray.

As well as river restoration, the work will also help promote sustainable water management – a key focus of CCE’s climate change adaptation strategy. Speaking on a podcast, hosted by Aclimatise, CCE’s vice president for public affairs (GB) Julian Hunt, said that water was now one of the key areas where businesses needed to increase their focus.

“As a business that uses water as a primary ingredient, we probably have a vested interest, but we know it’s not high on everyone’s agenda … when you’re in Northern Europe it’s too easy to think it’s an issue more for developing markets,” he reflected.

“But everywhere we look there is water scarcity. In Great Britain over the last two years you’ve really started to see some of the impacts that we’re going to have to get used to operating in [terms] of climate change and volatile weather patterns. Within that, water as a precious resource that has to used properly, for us, is right at the top of the agenda.”

Within Great Britain, every litre of product that Coca Cola produces takes 1.3 litres of water to make. The business as a whole is working towards reducing that water usage level to 1.2 litres (per product litre). “We’re not sure that in a carbon efficient way, you can get any better than that,” noted Hunt. “That’s probably the limit of where we can get to.”

As a consequence, the company is examining where it can improve water sustainability across its supply chain and is targeting the water sources it either directly or indirectly impacts. “Can we improve the quality of that natural water flow, can we help replenish to go some way to filling that gap between what we can achieve within our own factories?” Hunt questioned.

The project with WWF on river restoration is now entering its third year – Hunt said it was too early to assess the results coming back from it, but added that early indications were encouraging. “We are seeing that we can improve the replenishment, and that the amount of the water does increase as well. It might shape a future model for what we can do on the replenishment side of water.”

Maxine Perella

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