Water scarcity affects around 700 million people, and nearly half of the global population experience such scarcity for at least one month each year. These startling figures will only increase as population growth, pollution and climate change continue to put stress on global water supplies. By 2025, an estimated 1.8 billion people will live in countries or regions with absolute water scarcity, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
As communities face greater scarcity, the global food sector uses 70 percent of the world’s freshwater supply—meaning food and beverage companies have a significant role to play in protecting water quality and quantity for generations to come.
To that end, Ceres and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) developed a multi-stakeholder initiative to help food and beverage companies advance their sustainable sourcing policies to protect the global water supply. Through the AgWater Challenge, the sustainability nonprofit and international NGO work with food and beverage giants to analyze water issues within their supply chains and create sourcing commitments to better manage water risk.
Seven companies representing more than $123 billion in annual net revenue were the first to join the challenge back in 2016. These corporate partners agreed to time-bound targets to reduce the water impact of their ingredients, implement on-the-ground strategies in supplier regions experiencing water scarcity, and help supplier farmers increase water stewardship.
Over the past two years, participating companies like Diageo, General Mills and Danone North America have made over 25 commitments related to strengthening water stewardship in their agriculture supply chains. And, as of this week, two more leading companies will join their ranks.
Retail giant Target and Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), one of the world’s largest agricultural processors and food ingredient providers, officially joined the AgWater Challenge during the Financial Times Water Summit in London on Wednesday.
By adding a global food processing conglomerate and a major food retailer operating in every U.S. state, the AgWater Challenge significantly increases the acreage farmed with water stewardship in mind, Ceres and WWF said. “With more of the food value chain represented in the AgWater Challenge, participating companies can now better leverage, scale and build meaningful projects in the places that need it most,” Lindsay Bass, manager of corporate water stewardship for WWF, said in a statement.
As the first retailer to join the challenge, Target pledged to promote sustainable water management in California as an active member of the California Water Action Collaborative. It will also join with other companies to back public policies that advance resilient water solutions through Ceres’ Connect the Drops campaign. And it’s working with Practical Farmers of Iowa and Sustainable Food Lab to develop a market solution for climate and water protection in the Corn Belt.
“These new commitments align with our goals of creating healthy ecosystems and improving sustainable water management,” Jennifer Silberman, vice president of corporate responsibility for Target, said in a statement. In the future, the company will look to go even further by implementing time-bound targets to improve soil health across corn and soy acres and reduce agricultural runoff in the Mississippi River Basin.
ADM, the first agricultural products company to join the challenge, manages a massive supply chain that stretches around the world. Its global value chain includes 500 crop procurement locations and 270 ingredient manufacturing plants—meaning its potential impact is equally immense. As part of its commitment to the challenge, ADM will incentivize participation in Illinois’ Saving Tomorrow’s Agriculture Resources (STAR), a farmer certification program focused on soil health. It will also work with growers to increase supplier acres using cover crops and alternative tilling practices by 25 percent each by 2022, among other pledges.
“At ADM, sustainable practices and a focus on environmental responsibility aren’t separate from our primary business: They are integral to the work we do every day to serve customers and create value for shareholders,” Alison Taylor, ADM’s chief sustainability officer, said in a statement. “Everything we do starts with growers, and participating in the AgWater Challenge presents us with a great opportunity to influence growing practices and make a tangible difference in water conservation practices for years to come.”
All challenge participants commit to be transparent about the progress toward their targets and communicate the positive impacts they’ve made in freshwater basins, Ceres and WWF said. “As human demand for water grows—particularly for agriculture—the pressures on critical freshwater ecosystems also grow,” said Bass of WWF. “When companies like Target and ADM embrace water stewardship across their agricultural supply chains, they set the stage for others to follow.”
Other participants include beverage giant PepsiCo, packaged food purveyors Kellogg and Hormel, and food and personal care company Hain Celestial Group.
Image credit: Nonki Azariah via Unsplash
Mary Mazzoni has reported on sustainability in business for over a decade and now serves as managing editor of TriplePundit. She is also the general manager of TriplePundit's Brand Studio, which has worked with dozens of brands and organizations on sustainability storytelling. Along with 3p, Mary's recent work can be found in publications like Conscious Company, Salon and Vice's Motherboard. She also works with nonprofits on media projects, including the women's entrepreneurship coaching organization Street Business School. She is an alumna of Temple University in Philadelphia and lives in the city with her partner and two spoiled dogs.