At the beginning of last year Nestlé’s site in La Penilla, northern Spain, which makes chocolate, confectionery, milk and infant formula, was using 72 cubic metres of water per tonne of product.

Following the introduction of a water efficiency programme, it has reduced this by 60% without increasing energy consumption or greenhouse gas emissions.

A team of engineers, environmental sustainability experts and the factory manager at La Penilla helped to analyse how the site could reduce its water usage.

The amount of water flowing through the condensers of the milk evaporators, for example, was regulated in a more efficient way to achieve the required vacuum on the equipment. This single modification has led to a reduction of more than 1,000,000 cubic metres of water per year.

The factory also installed three new cooling towers with a more efficient closed refrigeration loop system, which recycles water, leading to an additional 25% less water being used in the first half of 2013.

The initiative also involved educating operational staff on the shop floor, according to Nestlé’s head of engineering & packaging services for the Iberian region, Ramon Montserrat.

“At the beginning, it was challenging to change the habits of the operators, who were used to working in a specific way,” he said. “We convinced them by explaining the project and why we care about saving water.”

Nestlé aims to further reduce water withdrawal per tonne of product by two fifths by 2015, compared to 2005. Earlier this year, the company published its commitments on water stewardship, highlighting the importance of water access and conservation.

In 2012, it recycled 6.9 million cubic metres of water recycled in total across its manufacturing operations, involving more than 489 water-saving projects.

On a wider level, the company launched 184 clean drinking water projects in the South Asian region, helping to improving access and sanitation for more than 100,000 students in village schools across several countries.

Just last week, Nestlé was rated as one of the top 12 companies leading in climate change action by international not-for-profit organisation CDP.

Maxine Perella

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