Since 2000, the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) annually awards an organization with recognition for its work on water stewardship. This year the title goes to PepsiCo for the food and beverage giant’s achievements in reducing water consumption. The company has had an aggressive water conservation agenda for several years, and the results bore fruit last year: compared to the company’s 2006 baseline, PepsiCo has reduced its global water consumption by 4.2 billion gallons (16 billion liters).
An eclectic range of organizations have won this award out of Sweden over the past decade, from Nestle last year to Phnom Penh and Orange County’s respective local water authorities. So what exactly has the purveyor of potato chips, fizzy drinks and now hummus done?
PepsiCo’s reduced water consumption has come on several fronts, from the farthest reaches of its supply chain to local factories. The company started where its water impact is at the absolute highest, with farmers. Whether the company invested in garbanzo bean production in Ethiopia or sunflower farmers in Mexico, PepsiCo has worked with farmers to instill more water efficient irrigation methods and improved agricultural practices. Countries enduring severe water stress such as India and China have also benefited from improved farming methods due to the partnerships between PepsiCo and NGOs. The moves are important because like many multinationals, PepsiCo finds growth opportunities far away from the U.S., in countries that are also trying to balance rapid economic growth with resource depletion. To that end, Pepsi was one of the first companies of its size to declare in 2009 that water was a fundamental human right, and that has helped set the company’s new tone towards its approach towards water usage.
Factories throughout PepsiCo’s operations have also contributed to the company’s decreased water use. One of the company’s Frito-Lay plants in Arizona is a model for its use of recycled water. Another in the United Kingdom has recycled water out of potatoes and other vegetables sliced and diced into such snacks as those famous Walker’s Crisps.
With water long an undervalued and wasted resource, steps like those that PepsiCo has taken will become more necessary in a more crowded and thirsty world. And despite all the talk at Rio+20 next week, look for businesses, not governments, to find pragmatic ways to combat water scarcity and use the world’s most precious resource much more smartly than all of us currently do.
If you happen to be in Stockholm in late August for World Water Week, SIWI will present the award to PepsiCo on August 28.
Photo of potato farmers in India courtesy SIWI.