I recently returned from the Global Water Summit in Berlin, Germany, where I’d spent two days with more than 400 water experts from the public and private sectors and engaging in lively discussions about corporate water stewardship and performance. The conference was a great opportunity to share best practices with experts from across the world, including other corporations, academics journalists and politicians.
During the summit, I participated in a panel discussion about the value of water footprinting – defined as “the total volume of fresh water used to produce the goods and services produced by a business.” One of my fellow panelists, Dr. Ashok Chapagain from the WWF, stated that a stand-alone water footprint number would be of little use to consumers without a veritable bible of supporting information. Other panelists echoed the observation, including Marcus Norton, head of Carbon Disclosure Project Water Disclosure, an organization committed to raising awareness of the business risks and opportunities around water and making reporting a standard corporate practice.
In PepsiCo’s Water Stewardship report, which was published last year, we were among the first companies to state that a single, aggregate number for a water footprint is of little material value, especially to consumers.
During the discussion, I made the point that water stress is by definition local, depending on not only water availability but also the economic, political and community context. Calculating the water footprint of individual products is onerous, because it depends on where and when water is used along the supply chain. It also fails to tell an adequate story of a corporation’s water use. This is a perspective shared by many peers in the consumer packaging goods industry.
At last year’s Stockholm World Water Week, virtually every industrial partner in the Water Footprint Network made the point that the true value of footprinting lies in disaggregation, or understanding the individual components that comprise the footprint.
The Global Water Summit‘s opening keynote session included a provocative presentation by Chandran Nair, founder of the Global Institute for Tomorrow, a social venture think-tank that helps create investment opportunities by advancing the understanding of the impacts of globalization. Mr. Nair spoke extensively on the ability of business to permeate communities, as illustrated by his statement that “more people in Asia have access to mobile phones than to toilets.”
The conference included an awards dinner at the historic Postbahnhof. Kofi Annan, former secretary general of the United Nations, made an inspiring speech calling for cooperation and collaboration among people and countries on water-related issues– a “blue revolution.” At the ceremony, PepsiCo was recognized by Global Water Intelligence with distinction for its leadership in water stewardship. It was very exciting to receive this honor and shake hands with Kofi Annan, who has historically placed water at the center of his policy agenda.
Overall, the summit was a great experience and unique opportunity to be among hundreds of inspiring leaders and experts, many of whom are from organizations and companies with best-in-class sustainability practices. I learned from their challenges and experiences and look forward to sharing these perspectives with my colleagues and applying some of these best practices to our work at PepsiCo.