Just a couple of weeks ago, the United Nations shared the great news that the world has met the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) Water Target of halving the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water, well in advance of the MDG 2015 deadline! This means that between 1990 and 2010, over two billion people gained access to improved drinking water sources, such as piped supplies and protected wells. No small feat, and cause for careful celebration.
I say “careful celebration” because even though the MDG was met (it is the first of the MDGs to be reached), at least 11% of the world’s population – 783 million people – are still without access to safe drinking water, and billions lack sanitation facilities. Clearly, we have a way to go.
But, I am optimistic. I have personally witnessed a significant change that began a few years ago, but really seems to have picked up momentum this past year. More and more people, companies, and organizations are realizing that water stewardship—at least the way we approach it at PepsiCo—is not purely about philanthropy. It is about assuring the foundation for the business and society to allow BOTH to flourish long term.
Water stewardship as a concept and practice in the food and beverage industry has evolved significantly; most notably, water stewardship is now recognized more explicitly as “part of” the core business—not something which sits “apart from” it.
We know that water impacts things such as water security, food security, climate security, global health, education, gender equity and even national and international security, so how can one possibly argue against the fact that any programs to address these are directly supportive of the business?
The casualties of water-related illness are the consumers of tomorrow. They are our future employees and the customers, partners, suppliers, and shareholders that companies will need to thrive. Investment in access to safe water is an investment in the future of all our stakeholders, and therefore the business. To be without safe water is to be without business, without governments, without communities, without life.
Water scarcity already affects every continent. Businesses, like people, need water to survive and flourish. Around 1.2 billion people, or almost one-fifth of the world’s population, live in areas of physical water scarcity. We are all obligated —companies, governments, non-governmental organizations, and individuals—to use water responsibly.
Consider the link between water and food. Obviously, we need water to grow food… and we need a lot of it… one estimate suggests as much as 200 million liters per second to grow the food currently on the planet.
What about the other way around? Do we think about how what we eat affects the amount of water we need? And why should a company care? As a food and beverage company, these global realities inform our strategic planning: which products to develop and market; where to site new plants; and how best to support the communities where we operate. These realities also impact our associates. PepsiCo wants to attract and retain the best employees long term, and this includes enabling their healthy and sustainable lifestyles, both in the workplace and at home.
To be successful in solving the water crisis, collaboration is crucial. No single entity and no single sector can solve a challenge of this magnitude alone. It is only through rethinking the importance of water to business, and collective efforts in sharing of good practices, that genuine progress will continue to be made… and PepsiCo is at the forefront of this progress.
I am excited to see what the year holds for all of us, and am looking forward to providing an update on World Water Day 2013!