Earth Today | Regional workshop offers lesson in corporate water stewardship
SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT players were recently given a lesson in how to successfully collaborate with the private sector for the stewardship of the vital resource, informed by the World Wildlife Fund's (WWF) experience with Coca Cola.
"They (Coca Cola) have a policy, globally, of replenishment, meaning that for every litre of water that they use in their production, they are going to return it to people and nature. And what does that really mean? Maybe in some regions they know that they are using some number of litres and they are going to help restore a wetland system or something like that," explained Jay Sherman of the WWF - United States.
"But that is a visionary commitment. What we have to do is hold them accountable that the replenishment they do is ecologically strategic," added Sherman.
He was speaking to representatives from United Nations agencies, civil society and government entities at the fourth targeted workshop for the Global Environment Facility's International Waters projects in Latin America and the Caribbean, held in Montevideo, Uruguay, last month.
WWF and Coca Cola enjoy a partnership that dates back to 2007. It is one that sees them working "to conserve and protect priority river basins and catchments around the world; to improve water efficiency and reduce carbon emissions across Coke's manufacturing operations; and to promote sustainable agriculture throughout the company's supply chain" according to a 2013 article published on the Coca Cola website.
On the journey to there, Sherman said that the first order of business is identifying what is at stake.
"You have to understand what is their risk because corporations aren't going to partner with us just because we are good people. They have to understand what is their risk," he said.
To help make that happen, Sherman said Coca Cola and the WWF had developed a water-risk filter that looks at basin water risk and operational water risk.
"The way most people in this room look at their basin (is) you are concerned about scarcity of water, water quality and the health of the ecosystem and social equity," he noted.
Private sector entities, on the other hand, are concerned with the physical, reputational, regulatory, and financial risks.
Awareness and impact are other important factors.
"The company needs to understand that there is a crisis in most of the world regarding water and this is very serious. They (also) need the knowledge of this company's impact and this is one of the things the water-risk filter can do. It is more than more than just their effluent and their intake," Sherman added.
From there, it is about their internal actions, collective actions and, ultimately, influencing governance.
And as you navigate the relationship with private companies, Sherman said it is essential to recognise that the goal is never to greenwash.
"What we are not trying to do is greenwashing. We are not just trying to make companies look better, where they give you some money and they look better. But (rather that) they do care about reputation and if you add up financial cost, water scarcity, regulation and reputation, that is sort of the more concise way to articulate what their risks are in general," he said.