On March 21, 2017, the U.S. Water Partnership presented its 2017 Water Leader Award to Muhtar Kent, chairman and CEO of The Coca-Cola Company, in a ceremony at the U.S. Institute for Peace in Washington, D.C. Kent received the award for leading the company through its vision and achievement of some of its biggest environmental and humanitarian efforts during his tenure as CEO, including many water stewardship milestones, namely reaching the company’s aggressive goal to replenish all the water it uses globally five years ahead of schedule. 

Here are the full remarks Kent delivered upon accepting the award:

Thank you all for being here… and thank you so much for this great honor… which I humbly accept on behalf of the more than 700,000 men and women of the worldwide Coca-Cola system.

Our people and partners made this possible. With their belief, their passion and their drive to respect and replenish water.

I’m honored to work alongside our people as we strive to refresh the world with our beverages, our business and our commitment to every community we proudly serve.

And yet we have not come this far on our own.

We’ve been lifted up, at every turn, by the power of partnerships.

Partnerships with our bottlers.

Partnerships with our customers and consumers.

Partnerships with our communities, governments and NGOs of every shape and size, working tirelessly in every corner of the globe.

Indeed, we share this award with more than 400 committed and passionate partners.

Here in the room, I want to thank our friends at the U.S. Water Partnership, Global Water Challenge, the Global Environment & Technology Foundation, our longtime conservation partners at World Wildlife Fund, USAID and many others.

Thank you all very much. This is truly your award as much as it is ours.

These days, I believe the best way to make real progress is by working across the Golden Triangle of business, government and civil society.

And this award vividly shows the power of partnerships and the promise of golden triangle solutions.

As you know so well, water is essential to human life. And while we all know this intellectually, many in the developed world tend to think about water like we think about air.

Which is to say: we don’t think much about it.

We expect clean water to be there, all day, every day. When we turn on a faucet, step up to a water fountain or turn on a washing machine.

I know I’m preaching to the choir today, but I believe we all must be more thoughtful, careful and intentional about the way we use and save and think about water.

In this great country and around the world, water is under tremendous stress. With more people. More industry. More growth. More wealth. And more reasons to use water.

None of these things is bad, of course. On the contrary. But their collective impact is that we must think more, every day, about water.

Because of the future we share. And the future we want for our children and grandchildren. And also because of the here and now.

Together, we need to think and act to preserve water right now because of all those enduring acute water stress and drought.

As you know, millions of people—most of them women and girls—spend multiple hours every single day finding and carrying water.

They’re taking care of themselves and their families. But at a very high price. In time and effort. In missed education. And lost productivity.

So what they’re doing is understandable but not acceptable.

Like you, I believe our world can—and must—do better.

And, my friends, you can count on Coca-Cola to keep moving forward, with our partners, to do more and do better on their behalf.

In water-use efficiency, cleaning and recycling.

In water basin preservation and rainwater capture.

And in improving access to safe drinking water in our planet’s most fragile communities.

We’ve reached water neutrality, but we can be water-positive… giving back more than we use.

In Africa, we’re halfway to our goal of providing 6 million people with clean drinking water by 2020.

We continue to invest in other water stressed areas, from Indonesia to Latin America.

Earlier today, in fact, Coca-Cola Brazil—in partnership with Brazil Northeast Bank and others—announced a $10 million dollar commitment to increase access to clean and sustainable drinking water for low-income communities in Brazil by 2020.

With our partners, we’ll invest in safe water access, behavior change, knowledge exchange, partnerships, technology and efforts to improve the effectiveness of water organizations in Brazil.

Again, thank you for this award.

I’m humbled by your good wishes…

I’m proud of our people and grateful to our partners, in this room and around the world…

And I’m inspired to press on by those struggling, every day, to bring home a simple necessity of life, too often taken for granted.

I dedicate this award to the quiet, everyday heroism of their struggle.

May we here, together, continue always to do all we can to make a real and lasting difference for those living in desperate need of safe, clean water.

Thank you very much!