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Feel the Rising Water Pressure: How Business Must Lead in Conservation

Image credit: The Nature Conservancy

We’re inundated with signals of the severity of the water crisis on a daily basis. Reports detail the extent: a staggering 2.8 billion people already affected by water scarcity. Authorities ban water-intensive activities at home, and stories describe the profound implications of severe water stress for people around the world: waterborne diseases, famine, migration, violence.

As populations grow and urbanize and climate change accelerates, there is more demand for increasingly scarce local water resources. In many of the most at-risk regions of the world, under-investment and short-termism are worsening water insecurity.

Amidst this rising pressure, what must change?

I believe two things are necessary to increase local water security. First, water must be treated as a local resource that requires cooperative local solutions. Second, all of us as users must be better informed about local water availability and act in ways that support it.

Industry can take a lead in local management by using water more efficiently, replenishing what it consumes where it consumes it, and supporting natural resource governance. These efforts must be part of a company's global water strategy but designed and implemented locally. 

PepsiCo relies on water — in agriculture, to grow ingredients for our foods and beverages, in the manufacturing processes that turn those ingredients into our products, and as a key ingredient in most of our beverages. We’ve set a goal to locally replenish the water we consume in high-water-risk areas. Local is the key word here: For the water we consume in Peru, we'll replenish it in Peru, not in Pakistan.

We'll do it through local alliances — inviting NGOs, community leaders and governing authorities to understand what is driving water insecurity and then invest in locally relevant solutions. Our work with The Nature Conservancy (TNC) in some of the most water-stressed urban areas in Latin America is a good example of watershed-level replenishment — but it’s just the beginning.

In India, PepsiCo has worked to offset the water used in our manufacturing processes through community water-recharge projects and in-country water conservation. We have been doing this across India for years, but we are now further targeting our replenishment efforts with vital local input to restore water to the specific watershed from which it is consumed, benefiting residents who rely on that resource.

Expanding and extending cooperation is the key to improved watershed security. In this spirit of collective action, I’d like to highlight Ceres and World Wildlife Fund as leading research and advocacy that support collective, sustainable action; and General Mills as another company that has done great work in this space.

While this leadership is vital, as water users, we each share in the responsibility to change our behavior. Water is finite, and it is expensive to manage and to deliver to our homes and businesses. In many developed countries, we tend not to think beyond the tap; there is an expectation that it will always flow freely and that prices should be low. But this expectation feeds short-termism, insecurity and inaction. Change starts with awareness: Through TNC’s Source of You, you can see where your water comes from and help to improve understanding in your own community.

If we truly value water, we will do something about it, by conserving and finding new ways to work together to replenish it.

As part of our Performance with Purpose 2025 Agenda, PepsiCo’s ambition is to achieve Positive Water Impact, which means there is long-term, sustainable water security for our business and others who depend on its availability. I welcome pressure for us to work even harder towards those goals, whether from our employees and business partners who are working to make progress, or from NGOs who see the urgency required.

But, in truth, we all need to feel the water pressure. There is nothing inevitable about increasing water scarcity. Across the world, and among all water users, it is our ability to cooperate in the common interest that determines whether access to clean, safe water can truly be a human right and not a privilege.

 

#collaboration #naturalcapital

Roberta Barbieri is PepsiCo’s Vice President for Global Water and Environmental Solutions, accountable for executing the company’s environmental and water sustainability strategy, including delivery of PepsiCo’s Performance with Purpose goals for Climate, Water, Waste and Sustainable Packaging. Previously, Roberta was Global Environmental… [Read more about Roberta Barbieri]


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