The Magnificent Seven: Food and beverage giants commit to water stewardship challenge

Sustainability advocacy group Ceres has tasked seven global food and beverage companies, including Diageo, General Mills, Kellogg and PepsiCo, to participate in a collaborative challenge aimed at strengthening sourcing and water stewardship action plans.

Ceres’s AgWater Challenge, established in partnership with the WWF, will see the aforementioned firms collaborate with Hain Celestial, Hormel Foods and WhiteWave Foods to develop an array of new water-based goals aimed at strengthening water management in the supply chain.

“Major food brands can be a powerful and constructive force for scaling water stewardship, especially at the farm level where the biggest footprint is by far,” Ceres’s director of the water and food programme Brooke Barton said.

“These brands recognise the material financial impact that water risks pose to their business, from supply disruptions, to higher operating costs, to growth constraints. More than ever, companies are responding to these supply risks through farmer incentives, local partnerships and bottom line reductions.”

With one-third of the world’s food grown in areas of high water stress, Ceres has tasked each company with an individual goal to improve water use. The seven companies will lean on one another as a means to source best practices. A progress reported detailing updates to the goals will be issued in one year’s time.

Company commitments

As part of the challenge, PepsiCo has agreed to work with agricultural suppliers to improve water efficiency in its direct supply chain by 15% by 2025 against a 2015 baseline. These suppliers are located in high water risk areas such as India and Mexico.

The company recently revealed that its water stewardship efforts have led to a 26% reduction in operational water usage since 2006 – exceeding its initial 20% goal.

Diageo – which is now replenishing 21% of water used in the final products in water-stressed areas – has agreed to establish partnerships with farmers to develop sustainable practices in relation to the production of barely, maize and agave amongst others. This 2020 goal will be targeted alongside a new aim to source 80% of its raw materials in Africa by 80% – while also promoting tools to protect water resources.

“Diageo makes over a third of our products in water stressed areas globally and over 70% of our water use is in agriculture,” Diageo Africa’s president John O’Keeffe said. “This means working with small holder farmers in Africa to help them manage water risk is absolutely essential to achieving our growth ambitions across Africa, and more importantly to the future of the farmers and their communities.”

General Mills has completed a comprehensive risk assessment of its water use and risks as part of the challenge. Having identified eight high-risk watersheds, it will partner with stakeholders to advocate on sustainable sourcing and policy amendments in high-risk areas including California.

“The footprint of our extended value chain goes well beyond our offices and facilities. A very large portion of that footprint is in agriculture,” General Mills chief sustainability officer Jerry Lynch said.

“The challenges facing our company and our planet are more pressing than ever, so we have to build resiliency in our supply chains to ensure that we can continue to serve the world by making food people love. Our ambition through the AgWater Challenge and all of our water initiatives is to lead by example and we hope to encourage others to do the same.”

Kellogg has committed to responsibly sourcing its 10 global priority ingredients – such as rice and wheat – by focusing on water and fertilizer. The company will support 17,000 agricultural suppliers, millers and farmers across 22 countries to optimise water use. Kellogg has reduced company water use by 10% since 2005.

The remaining three companies will strive to implement roadmaps aimed at enhancing water management, educating farmers in water-stressed areas and improving data collection as a means to map and examine potential high-risk areas.

The seven companies will now act as AgWater Stewards for not only placing action plans into motion, but also going “beyond” the minimum criteria of the challenge. The AgWater Challenge encourages companies to make time-bound and measurable commitments.

Earlier this month, a panel of experts convened by the Financial Times urged the private sector to step up water efficiency practices to build understanding that water is an economic risk as well as an environmental one.

Matt Mace

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie