This is the first post in a series focused on transparency. Public perception often helps form reality, and we care about what you think. Rather than pull the “no comment” card, we’re going to answer critical questions directly. In doing so, we hope you will better understand our positions on various topics and ultimately get why we do the things we do.

To kick off this series, my colleague Greg Koch – leads our water stewardship program – and I are going to respond to five questions we receive regularly about water. Then, next time we’ll pick another topic or come back to water. We’ll keep this up as long as we need to.

Why does Coca-Cola care about water?

Well, water is truly at the heart of our business. It is an essential ingredient in all of our beverages and is used to grow the agricultural ingredients on which we rely. Water is also critical to the health and economic prosperity of the communities we serve and operate in. If communities are not sustainable, neither is our business.

Why does Coca-Cola operate in areas of water stress?

We’re a beverage business so we operate wherever people want to buy our beverages. And we operate responsibly everywhere.

As a global business with operations in 207 countries and territories, in any given year we have a number of facilities in areas experiencing water stress – water scarcity, water quality, infrastructure issues and other forms of stress. However, we believe our business can operate within a community facing water stress as long we have the right programs in place and work closely with the community and other water users to evaluate and monitor source water availability. Thus, we closely monitor the impact of our water use, and require our nearly 900 system-wide plants to comprehensively evaluate local source water vulnerabilities and risk. They also have plans in place to address the risks identified, and are actively implementing their plans in cooperation with the local community.

Rather than shy away from an area in need of access to safe water, for example, our approach has been to look into our operations for solutions. We continue to improve water efficiency in our plants including introducing water reuse technology. We also take an active role in helping make water available to those who need it by partnering with local communities on safe water access and infrastructure programs. In many cases, we have provided water infrastructure where none has previously existed. It’s not a pat on our back; it’s merely sharing the truth. We support water access programs because it's the right thing to do and it’s good for our business.

We build plants near cities where we can sell our products and where there are water sources. Maintaining local production is key—the product doesn’t have to travel as far from where it’s made to where it’s consumed. This reduces transportation distances and associated impacts, and allows us to contribute to the local economy, providing income to employees in the community. Local production makes it a business imperative that we engage communities and work to help sustain sources of water we all share.

Bottom line is we will not place a facility in an area that cannot support it. It’s not good for the community or our business.

Is Coca-Cola pro tap?

Simple answer, yes.

We don’t see bottled water as a competitor of tap water, and we don’t encourage it as a substitute to strong municipal water systems. We are a vocal supporter of municipal water and sewage treatment systems – such services help people and economies thrive and are the preferred place for us to do business. But not everywhere has a strong municipal water system, nor is there a tap everywhere we go.

When bottled water can serve as the safe water source for someone, we’re going to offer it. And, as a for-profit public enterprise, when there’s a market demand for a particular product, we aim to fulfill the need. Bottled water is a popular choice for people on-the-go and for those who simply prefer the taste, so we sell it as part of our portfolio of more than 4,000 beverage products.

Why are you ‘replenishing water’?

As the world faces a water crisis, government, civil society and business have a responsibility and opportunity to work together to address global water challenges. For our part, we set a goal to ‘give back’ an amount of water equivalent to what we use in our beverages and their production by 2020. One of the ways we’re working to meet this goal is by replenishing the water used in our finished beverages through the support of healthy watersheds and community water programs.

But, as significant a milestone as this is, we’re not finished. Once we hit the 100% mark, we’re going to continue our work. We’ll keep adding and maintaining projects to keep replenishing at the 100% level as our volume continues to grow. So, if our volume grows 5%, we intend to grow our replenish programs at least 5% too.

While we’re proud of our replenish progress, we also know that there will be some who criticize or question it. And, we’re ok with that. We’ve shared the methodology, the project locations and partners, and the third party verification report. We work with respected global and local governments and non-profit organizations all over the world to give water back where the need is greatest.

What does replenish mean?

Each year, Coca-Cola uses approximately 305 billion liters of water to produce around 150 billion liters of product (e.g., Coke, Sprite, Fanta, Minute Maid, Fuze Tea, etc.) that we sell to 7 billion consumers in 207 countries and territories around the world. Of the 305 billion liters of water used, about half goes into our products and is sold to consumers (keep in mind, that number grows if our volume grows). The other half is used in our manufacturing processes. Water used in our manufacturing process is properly treated and released back to nature. The water used in our products is what we’re working to replenish through more than 200 community water projects in 61 countries and territories.

At the end of 2014, Coca-Cola replenished (gave back) 94% of the water in our sales volume to communities and nature. Water is given back through locally relevant projects that address water issues where the need is greatest (e.g., safe water access, watershed protection and reforestation). This progress means we’re replenishing and returning nearly all the water used in Coca-Cola products back to communities and nature. 

Bea Perez
Chief Sustainability Officer

Greg Koch
Senior Director, Global Water Stewardship