Coca-Cola Shares Water Management Strategies: Q&A with Jon Radtke

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Water management has become one of the biggest challenges sustainability professionals face. In 2016, a World Bank report found that good water management could lead to a 6% increase in global GDP by 2050, while bad management – or simply business as usual in some places – could lead to sustained declines in GDP via losses in agriculture, health, income, and property.

Coca-Cola is one company that has taken the need for smart water management seriously. Its goals include reducing the amount of water it uses per liter of product, and returning to communities and nature “an amount of water equal to what we use in our finished beverages,” the company says. In fact, Coca-Cola says it is now replenishing more than 100% of the water used in its finished beverages.

We talked briefly with Jon Radtke, Water Sustainability Program Director and Chief Hydrogeologist for Coca-Cola North America, about how Coca-Cola has addressed water challenges, and what other companies can do to manage water use in a responsible way.

Jon will be sharing more strategies and tips during his keynote talk at the Environmental Leader & Energy Manager Summit (ELEMCON) in Denver in May. (Register now for Early Bird pricing.)

What has been Coca-Cola’s biggest challenge in terms of water management?

Our biggest challenge has been setting out to balance, or Replenish, all the water we use.  The two main things that helped us overcome this challenge were 1) engaging with multiple NGO stakeholders and educating them on what types of projects count toward our Replenish goal; and 2) convincing leadership to invest in projects to reach the goal.

What are a few things you have learned about water reduction?

Water conservation/efficiency requires continuous attention. When it slips to the back of the priority list it is easy to lose ground and slide backwards on conservation gains.

It’s important to engage, raise awareness and educate bottlers and associates about the importance of water conservation (and sustainability in general) to their operations, to the overall health of the business and even to their personal lives. Otherwise it’s just another edict from Corporate that gets lost in shuffle.

We do this by including bottlers in the development of our strategies and goals, and engaging them in workshops and training. It’s important to recognize and reward strong sustainability performance.

What tips do you have for sustainability professionals when it comes to smart management of water resources?

Of course do all the right things inside your operations, but also look outside the four walls of your facilities and figure out what you can do to reduce risk, build resilience and add value to the communities and watersheds where you operate.

This usually includes engaging external stakeholders that you’re not used to working with (NGOs, government, companies).

Also, don’t be afraid to set challenging goals.

Jon will share more details on these learnings, as well as other practical tips and takeaways, at ELEMCON. Other sessions relating to water management include a breakout session on leveraging IoT and smart water data to mitigate portfolio-wide risk with Ed Bennett, head of facilities with Thacher School, and Gillan Taddune, CEO of Banyan Water.

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