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New Coke? Made with less water

Sam Eaton Jun 5, 2007

New Coke? Made with less water

Sam Eaton Jun 5, 2007


KAI RYSSDAL: We’ve heard about companies trying to reduce their carbon footprint. Just another way of saying the amount of greenhouse gases they put into the atmosphere.

Today, the Coca-Cola company announced a plan that might eventually take that model a step further. Coke’s promising to return to nature every drop of water it uses in making its drinks. Which really is saying something, because last year, Coke used 76 billion gallons of water worldwide.

Sam Eaton staffs the Marketplace Sustainability Desk for us. Hi, Sam.

SAM EATON: Hey, Kai.

RYSSDAL: Coke’s been around for along time. Sam, why now with the water thing?

EATON: Well the environmental conservation group World Wildlife Foundation, which worked with Coke to craft this plan, is calling water the next carbon. And they say that Coke could help bring worldwide attention to what is already a global water crisis. We’re talking about one billion people lacking access to fresh water, and many of those people are in countries where Coke has manufacturing facilities. Now, if Coke looks at its long-term plan, access to that water is basically . . . they’re saying access to that water is the highest risk.

RYSSDAL: All right. So what’s Coke gonna do?

EATON: Well, Coke announced today in China, at the WWF’s annual meeting, a $20 million project. Basically they’re gonna put money into conserving seven river basins, and that includes the Yangtze in China, the Rio Grande along the U.S.-Mexican border. They’re also gonna revamp their bottling practices, there’s a lot of room for savings there. And basically reducing the pollution and water use, basically recycling water back into the ecosystem. But most important is they’re looking at the entire supply chain, and this is where agriculture comes in. Sugar is an incredibly water-intensive crop. For one liter of Coke, it takes 250 liters of water to produce that sugar that goes into that Coke.

RYSSDAL: Wait, say that one more time: 250 liters of water — that’s plus or minus 50, 60 gallons — to make a liter of Coca-Cola.

EATON: Sure, and there’s a lot of room for improvement there, Kai. And this is where Coke’s pressure with their sugar suppliers comes in, to be able to really change that practice.

RYSSDAL: All right, let me get back up to something you said in the beginning, about water being the new carbon. You and I have talked many times about carbon and CO2 emissions and climate change being now a business opportunity for a lot of companies — how they are gonna start making money off this and how they’re retooling things to make it work for them in the process. Is now what’s happening with Coke and water, are we seeing water as the next frontier in sustainability?

EATON: Kai, all eyes are on Coke here to see what happens with this. With a lot of the carbon initiatives, companies are looking at ways to save money while reusing their carbon input. Coke, obviously, is also looking at ways to save money by creating more efficiencies in their water supply. So there’s a definite incentive there. But water’s a much more complicated beast than carbon. You reduce CO2 emissions in one place, that benefits the entire planet. Water is much more local. It’s also much more political, and it’s considered a public right by many people.

RYSSDAL: All right, Sam Eaton from the Sustainability Desk. I guess we’ll be talking water and carbon and all kinds of things. Thank you, Sam.

EATON: Thanks, Kai.

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