World Water Week in Stockholm is an annual event where nearly 3,000 people from across the world attempt to drink (from a firehose) the latest on innovation and best practices from thought leaders and partners.

This year’s theme was ‘Water, ecosystems and human development’ – a slightly dry title to describe the fundamental role of water in the wellbeing of people, business and nature.

At The Coca-Cola Company, water is the first ingredient in most of our recipes, and that is why we have followed a consistent water conservation and replenishment plan for more than a decade.

Our new Sustainability Report is a testimony to our achievements: for the third consecutive year, The Coca-Cola Company has given back the equivalent amount of water used in our beverages and their production. Through more than 280 projects, we cleaned, captured and made available for human and productive use, 249 billion liters of water.

While we are very proud of this achievement, we also know there is more to be done as we go forward on water availability, quality, and access, which are critical drivers to achieve water security for all.

World Water Week 2018 offered multiple new perspectives on what has worked, what needs to be scaled, and where we can strengthen our engagement.

Five essential themes from this year’s meeting stood out and reinforced where our work is progressing and how we can continue to go further:

1. The future of water stewardship.

As a trusted and thoughtful global partner, World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has always been at the forefront of refreshing our thinking and challenging the business community, to think harder about the business case for water security and ecosystem preservation. This year, WWF issued a new call for action on the future of corporate water stewardship, supporting the newly revised AWS Standard presented by the Alliance for Water Stewardship, which is used as a framework by to help companies develop meaningful water stewardship plans.

At Coca-Cola, we are very proud to work with WWF through our long-standing conservation partnership, to improve river basin health on the ground in communities around the world. This year’s partnership report highlights our progress, for example, through two primary programs in the Mesoamerican Reef and the Yangtze River, but also through a multitude of vital ecosystems across North America, Europe, Vietnam and Australia.

2. The impact of water access for women’s empowerment and community development.

The lack of access to water and sanitation has a devastating impact on girls and women, who spend hours fetching water, preventing them from going to school, earning an income and putting their lives and health at risk. The "Ripple effect" study of Ipsos examines the effects that water access has on seven pathways for empowerment based on three in-depth studies of water projects by WADA (the Water & Development Alliance between Coca-Cola and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)).

At the end of 2017, our Replenish Africa Initiative (RAIN), provided safe drinking water to more than 2.8 million people in Africa and supported water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) programs in more than 2,000 communities across 39 African countries.

3. Rethinking Tradition and Innovation

Sometimes, the best way to meet future challenges is to visit the past to see how our ancestors have managed water and achieved a sustainable water balance with traditional techniques. At Stockholm, the ten-year partnership between Coca-Cola and the Global Water Stewardship Mediterranean program celebrated the success of going ‘back to the roots’ in nearly 40 communities in Cyprus, Greece, Malta, and Sicily. The program rediscovers ancient rainwater harvesting approaches and management techniques. In many cases, new and innovative technologies complemented the traditional ways, offering future job opportunities and new skills to young people.

4. Context-based water management and collective action

What does "context-based water targets" mean? They aim to focus company targets on contributing to specific watershed health goals. A contextual approach drives companies to focus on water action to where it matters: watersheds with high water security risk or where there is an opportunity to make a lasting impact. The coalition driving the Context-Based Water Targets is inciting a wave of new thinking in the business community to operationalize this methodology, so the private sector knows what is necessary to maintain or improve watershed health.

Several improvements in the water risk assessment tools of WWF Water Risk Filter and World Resources Institute (WRI) Aqueduct will help companies identify where they are most exposed to water security risks.

CEO Water Mandate Action hubs in Southern California and South Africa already bring businesses together to tackle water challenges in those geographies.

Coca-Cola is an active and supportive partner in this endeavor. Our work on Source Vulnerability Assessment across the bottling system, operational excellence inside the plants and replenishment in the watersheds are a great starting point. We support the 2030 Water Resources group as an essential multi-stakeholder platform to advise and support improved water governance across 13 countries. Moreover, we have impactful examples in Latin-America through the water funds with Coca-Cola FEMSA and TNC, where collective action with other users has made a difference for the sustainability of water supply for communities and nature.

5.    Measuring and Valuing

As the old saying goes: "What you can’t measure, you can’t manage." As water security requires investment (in green and grey infrastructure, access and treatment, and resilience), if you can’t show the benefit of an intervention, how can you get more money for the needed investment? So, unsurprisingly, there is much work around measuring the benefits of water stewardship interventions by a multi-stakeholder group of the private sector, field-program executors and academia.

International organizations and governments, like the Netherlands and Bangladesh, supported by the World Bank and 2030WRG, are working on finding new methodologies to value water. This work will allow better and more transparent policy and decision making toward a sustainable water future.

In conclusion, Stockholm Water Week offered a range of new approaches, strategic initiatives and new challenges on water. These insights will inform our work as we close the 2020 commitments cycle on water and think about the next steps towards where we want to contribute to water security in 2030.

The most important aspect, however, is the people who come together at World Water Week to connect, discuss, build partnerships and agree on priorities. Because it’s ultimately people, who will need to work together to ensure water security for all.

Ulrike Sapiro is senior director of water stewardship and sustainable agriculture at The Coca-Cola Company.