WaterBeverage industry seeks to curb water usage

Published 21 April 2011

The beverage industry is actively working with researchers to conserve water as it requires vast amounts of water in its production processes; as much as 98 percent of the industry’s water usage comes from growing the ingredients used to make drinks; it is projected that by 2030 water demand will exceed supplies by 40 percent; analysts predict that water shortages will disrupt production and in times of scarcity can damage a company’s reputation; Coke has come under fire in India where residents blame the company for severe water shortages and improperly disposing of contaminated sludge; some companies are leading the charge and working with local farmers to help reduce water consumption and bolster local water supplies

As water consumption rates continue to rise and with water sources dwindling, future shortages have become an increasing reality. To avert disaster, some conservationists and businesses are working together to explore how to use less water in their manufacturing processes.

In particular, the beverage industry is keenly interested in conserving water supplies as it requires vast amounts of it to make drinks like beer, juice, or soda.

According to the Water Footprint Network, on average it takes forty-five to eighty gallons of water to produce half a liter of soda pop, eighty gallons of water to make a liter of beer, and nearly forty gallons of water to make one cup of coffee.

The bulk of the water the industry uses is in the fields where farmers grow ingredients like sugar, barley, or tea, rather than the bottling process itself.

The Water Resources Group, a World Bank sponsored panel of businesses, projects that by 2030 water demand will exceed supplies by 40 percent.

Scientists believe that that this shortage will be the result of increasing use and dwindling supplies as populations continue to grow, countries become wealthier, and climate change exacerbates extreme weather patterns.

John Briscoe, a professor of environmental engineering at Harvard University, says that water shortages in the future could prove to be highly disruptive to the beverage industry.

Briscoe says that if droughts occur where a beverage plant or agricultural supplier is located, authorities are likely to cut off supplies to foreign factories or hike up the price of water.

likely to cut off supplies to foreign factories or hike up the price of water.

Even if water “is a tiny proportion of your costs, if you’re going to be shut down for six months for that, it’s going to be an enormous risk,” he said.

Briscoe added that beverage companies are “quite aware that they are vulnerable on the supply-chain side, both with growing scarcity, but also with climate change,” because when there are droughts and crops are unable to thrive, “who’s going to be able to grow the inputs for them?”

David Tickner, the head of freshwater programs at the World Wildlife Federation (WWF) in the United Kingdom, adds that if water is scarce consuming large quantities of it could hurt a beverage company’s reputation.

“Almost regardless of the hydrological truth, if water is scarce in an area and people perceive that companies are big users of water, that carries reputational risk,” Tickner said.

For instance, in 2003