The latest assessment of major food, beverage and agriculture companies’ attention to water issues such as scarcity and pollution shows more are taking action.
The 2021 Feeding Ourselves Thirsty report, out Thursday from the sustainability nonprofit group Ceres, ranks companies for their water conservation efforts in the areas of governance, risk assessment, targets and implementation.
The report landed Coca-Cola in the top spot, with Anheuser-Busch, Unilever, Nestle and Diageo rounding out the top five.
Michael Goltzman, vice president for sustainability at Coca-Cola, said in a press briefing about the report that 70% of the company’s water footprint comes from agricultural production of the ingredients used in its beverages. He said the company has sustainable water stewardship at the top of its agenda and this year launched its 2030 water security strategy “which is focused on increasing water security for our business, our supply chain, and in the communities where we operate.”
The company, he added, has engaged Midwest farmers by encouraging cover crop use, fostering advanced irrigation adoption and restoring wetlands. Around the world, the company’s water sustainability efforts include routing wastewater from production into irrigation for crops in China and, in India, offering training in sustainable agriculture techniques to sugarcane farmers.
Kirsten James, director of water at Ceres, said water concerns are a part of the broader climate crisis and the upcoming COP26 international climate meeting will include a water pavilion for the first time. Ceres hosts the Valuing Water Finance Task Force, which encourages major companies and investors to step up to tackle water issues.
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Michael Frerichs, the state treasurer of Illinois, is a member of the task force and said at the virtual press event that part of being fiscally responsible with investors’ money is paying attention to the climate impact of companies that are part of an investment portfolio.
With climate change causing more extreme weather events even as water quality continues to be a concern, Frerichs said “we have seen these risks become material in Illinois and beyond.” That has him looking to engage investors in his overall strategy of responsibly maximizing return and minimizing risk for the people whose money he manages. How responsibly a company considers its water use can be part of that conversation.
“Water risk disclosures are improving, and many companies are moving to tangibly tackle water challenges,” he said. “But we still have a ways to go.”
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