Coca-Cola’s recharge claims challenged by activists

An international campaign launched by the global beverage manufacturer Coca-Cola last week claimed that the company had reached its global water replenishment goal, which aimed to return 100 per cent of the water utilised in manufacturing its product “back to nature and to communities.”

Coca-Cola India vice-president, Public Affairs and Communications, Deepak Jolly, told The Hindu that Coca-Cola India had significantly reduced the amount of water used to manufacture the beverage at its bottling facilities. As per their 2013 Sustainability Report, the company had replenished more water resources than it used, with replenishment percentage up from 118 in 2012 to 129 in 2013, Mr. Jolly said.

However, environmental groups monitoring the company’s corporate accountability record, especially in India, have challenged the basis of their claims. San Francisco-based campaigner Amit Srivastava, with the international corporate accountability watchdog firm India Resource Centre, said such campaigns were meant to hide the fact that these firms could not realistically attain water neutrality due to the high water footprint of their end products.

Coca-Cola’s 2013 Sustainability Report showed that the organisation only accounted for water used in its bottling operations. The report stated that its ‘water usage ratio’ improved from 2.12 lt. in 2012 to 1.98 lt. in 2013.

Cane sugar

But Mr. Srivastava pointed to a 2010 research paper published by the Water Footprint Network, which showed that sugar-containing carbonated beverages had a water footprint of over 300-600 lt. for every litre of beverage produced, much higher than the water footprint the company cited on the basis of use at its bottling plants. This was because the water footprint of the entire supply chain was not calculated. He said cane sugar was a major component of Coca-Cola products in India, and as one of the largest procurers of sugar in India, Coca-Cola was well shy of achieving any balance with the water actually used in producing its beverages. “The numbers used for their announcements are thus about 200 times less than the actual water footprint of Coca-Cola products.”

Sunil Gulati, Director of Quality, Safety and Environment, Coca Cola India said that water replenishment was calculated on the basis of the “replenishment potential achieved through initiatives such as rain water harvesting, renovation of water bodies, ponds and construction of check dams by the company.”