Leaders from government, business, academia and civil society are gathering this week in the Brazilian city of Brasília for the 8th World Water Forum. The international conference on water policy and resource management is held every three years during World Water Week, is organized by the World Water Council.

The 2018 edition of the Forum follows the theme of “Sharing Water”. It will discuss the different aspects of fair water governance through political and regional discussion processes, side events, a citizens’ forum and expo. Coca-Cola Brazil and its water brand Crystal are sponsoring the event.

Bea Perez, chief public affairs, communications and sustainability officer for Coca-Cola, will represent the company at the World Water Forum, which runs through Friday. We spoke with her about her expectations for the event.

What is the importance of an event such as the World Water Forum?

Collaboration is key to achieving results for water-related issues. While we have strong relationships in the communities where we operate, we’ve found that the collective thoughts and actions from businesses, governments and civil society are more effective – and also necessary – to reach sustainable, long-term solutions that meet the needs of every community. As the world’s largest event on water welcoming experts from most every sector, the World Water Forum provides the perfect setting to advance knowledge sharing and connect ideas and action. Venues such as World Water Forum also give us an opportunity to explore the advancement and scalability of private and public partnerships.

What is your expectation regarding the event in Brazil?

As a beverage company, we recognize the indispensable nature of water in advancing healthy ecosystems, communities, business, agriculture and commerce. We respect the human and ecological needs for water and we hold ourselves to industry-leading water goals. During the World Water Forum in Brazil, we’ll engage in ongoing discussions about the pressures and opportunities that exist for improved water access and sanitation and financing the water needs of increasing urbanization and the impacts of climate change. Overall, this forum is about how together we can ensure the long-term availability of this critical resource.

The Coca-Cola Company makes many partnerships with conservation and access to water projects in the world, but what about Latin America, specifically? Could you mention some outstanding projects and partnerships in this region?

Our work on water is designed to ensure we use water more efficiently and that communities have affordable, sustainable access to water. In Latin America, “Agua por el Futuro” is a signature program that partners with local organizations such as the Amazon Sustainable Foundation and The Latin American Water Funds Partnership. We replenish billions of liters of water to nature across the region through watershed protection, environmental conservation, and reforestation.

Responsible water management inside and outside our plants is a top priority for The Coca-Cola Company and is key to our sustainability efforts. In Brazil and Mexico, our manufacturing facilities have increased efficiency by over 30 percent in the past 10 years. In Central America and the Andes, we have water use efficiency by 55 percent. This contributes to our global water reduction of nearly 30% per liter of product produced over the past 10 years.

We also rehabilitate water systems to ensure access to water for more than 100,000 people in the region. Projects include rainwater harvesting, purification and treatment plants, and community resources and training. One of our signature programs supporting this work is Lazos de Agua.

When we step outside of our direct operations to engage on water challenges we are stepping into a shared environment to protect a shared resource. Water is the ultimate common good and, in any given location, all water users share supply and have a shared responsibility for their stewardship. As such, we partner with The Nature Conservancy, Catholic Relief Services and World Wildlife Fund (WWF), as well as with government agencies to ensure maximum impact and sustainability.

When we talk about water challenges, it is very common to think of governments and NGOs. But how can companies contribute to solving these challenges?

It’s important for businesses to understand their water use, where their water comes from and what risks exist between use and available supply. Specifically, companies should initially focus on water use in their direct operations by first measuring water use, working toward better efficiency, and ensuring their wastewater and stormwater discharge does not negatively impact the environment. Once they have this foundation, companies should look outside their property line to the watershed they share: upstream into how water is used in their supply chain and downstream where their goods or services are used by others. All parts of this value chain will use some water and likely face challenges.

A business can then consider the risks and opportunities these challenges present and develop a comprehensive strategy to address them. Our replenish program addresses our finished product sales volume, this is essentially our consumptive use of water. Non-product water is properly treated and returned to the environment locally. Other businesses may well find that addressing their consumptive use, in terms of quality and quantity, provides an easily understood and powerful way to motivate their teams, mark progress and gauge the beneficial impact of their actions.

Why is The Coca-Cola Company concerned about water issues? What does this have to do with the company’s business?

Water is essential. It is critical to humanity and ecosystems, indispensable for economic prosperity and vital for our business. At Coca-Cola, water is the main ingredient in nearly all our beverages, central to our manufacturing process and necessary for growing the agricultural products we use.

We have a special interest in protecting the local water sources that sustain the communities that host our bottling plants because they are also our consumer base – we sell our products where we make them. If those communities stay strong, our business will stay strong. So, in addition to the ecological and ethical imperatives that drive our water stewardship efforts, we also have a vested business interest in helping preserve and improve local water sources.

The Coca-Cola Company recently announced an ambitious packaging recycling goal. How does this goal connect to the water issue?

As we continue to become a total beverage company, we have the opportunity to grow our business by creating more beverages for more people in more places. This opportunity for growth comes with responsibility – to do what’s right for our planet, our communities, and our business.

Our packaging vision, World Without Waste, and our global water stewardship program share the same premise - grow with conscience. We are investing in programs, partnerships and innovation to reduce our waste and protect our planet.

Does The Coca-Cola Company have concrete goals for water conservation and access plans?

Yes. Our water stewardship program is focused on respecting water as a shared resource. To do that, our water goals are aggressive and centered around efficiency (less water use per liter of product produced), risk management, wastewater treatment and reuse, and replenishing the water we use back to communities and nature by 2020. In 2015, we became the first Fortune 500 Company to replenish the same amount of water we use and we continue to maintain it today. With agriculture accounting for 70 percent of worldwide water withdrawals, we have also committed to sustainably sourcing key agricultural ingredients for our products.

The Coca-Cola Company is a part of communities all around the world. How can the company use this presence to collaborate with the communities on the water issue?

Our programs take many forms from safe water access and education to advocating for needed water policy. The one constant is partnership. No one actor can do it alone. We collaborate with partners across government, civil society and the private sector. We make the greatest impact through our community water programs. They involve more than 400 partners in communities around the world.

One of our largest collaborations is with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and our bottling partners. Together in 2005, we formed the Water and Development Alliance (WADA) to protect and improve the sustainability of watersheds, increase access to water supply and sanitation and enhance productive use of water in 30 countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East. Since its inception, there has been a combined investment of more than $30 million, helping WADA provide improved water access to more than 600,000 people; improved sanitation to more than 250,000 people; and improved the management of over 440,000 hectares of land. As an example, in Tarija, Bolivia, WADA supported the local water stakeholder forum PROAGUA to promote improved watershed and water resources management in a basin serving more than 150,000 people.

Any final message?

Beyond all the numbers and progress, the true beneficiaries are people and the environment. I have seen firsthand the difference such work makes. In China, for example, I witnessed the happiness schoolchildren and their teachers felt when we completed a safe water access system for their campus. I’ve heard women and farmers in India share how their livelihoods have improved from water storage systems installed to capture monsoon rains. And I’ve learned how empowered all members of a community become when their basic water needs are met.

I hope the Forum drives greater focus on how everyone can do more together. How we can work to achieve the targets outlined in the Sustainable Development Goals; identify new, innovative ways to approach water challenges; and work together to protect against the impacts of climate change that continue to affect the world and resources we share.