Stewardship that works: Lessons from Coca-Cola

by | Feb 28, 2022 | Article, Business and Marketing

As a global leader in water stewardship, Coca-Cola has invested heavily in several water projects in South Africa through the Coca-Cola Foundation. Vice President of Coca-Cola South Africa, Phillipine Mtikitiki, explains why these initiatives makes sense both for the brand and the bottom line.

In January 2022, the Coca-Cola Africa Operating Unit (AOU) and its bottling partners launched a new sustainability platform comprising existing and new sustainability initiatives on the continent. The platform, known as JAMII – a Swahili word meaning “community, society, and people” – focuses on three areas: water stewardship, waste management, and the economic empowerment of women and youth.

It’s the latest development coming out of an ambitious sustainable packaging initiative the company launched in 2018, called World Without Waste, which seeks to create a circular economy that minimises waste and maximises reuse. Its goal is to reach 25% reusable packaging by 2030.

Coca-Cola has a mission to reduce, recycle and replenish the water it uses globally, says Phillipine Mtikitiki, Vice President of Coca-Cola South Africa. This is in recognition of the growing urgency of shared water challenges and how water is interconnected with its other priorities. “Our 2030 water strategy is to increase water security where we operate, source our ingredients responsibly, and touch people’s lives by improving water availability, quality, access, and governance,” Phillipine says.

Change begins at home: In 2004, Coca-Cola took 2.7 litres of water to make 1 litre of product. By 2020, the company’s progress on water efficiency placed it among the leading companies in the beverage industry, according to a benchmarking report by the Beverage Industry Environmental Roundtable.

sustainability

Phillipine Mtikitiki, Vice President of the South Africa Franchise for Coca-Cola Africa

Measuring progress

It’s important to know whether initiatives are performing as they’re supposed to, and Coca-Cola South Africa has a rigorous result tracking and reporting process that starts with setting measurable targets. These are then carefully audited. “We work with partners to sample and assess the functionality of projects and report on the water projects,” Phillipine says. “We validate the results provided by implementing partners through a third party, and engage external auditors to complete an assurance process before we publicly publish the final results.”

Supporting a transition to sustainable agriculture requires building institutional capacity, and Coca-Cola has implemented a framework called Principles for Sustainable Agriculture (PSA) that applies to all agricultural products and packaging materials of agricultural origin. The framework describes the principles for sustainable agriculture based on environmental, social and economic criteria based on the latest scientific and external stakeholder insights.

“The PSA is aimed primarily at farmers and forms the basis for our continued engagement with suppliers to achieve compliance, transparency, and continuous improvement of their farm base according to these principles. They guide our continued collaboration with industry platforms and standard bodies to drive the adoption of sustainable agriculture practices in the production stage of our supply chain and advance compliance with our vision on sustainable agriculture.”

Common stewardship goals

“Like the wine industry, we’re concerned about the quality and integrity of our products,” Phillipine continues. “This requires a sustainable supply chain with successful and thriving agricultural communities and ecosystems. We work with our suppliers and partners to create systemic change in our agricultural supply chain. Sustainable agriculture also offers solutions to interrelated issues such as human rights, water security, climate resilience, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction, and women’s empowerment.”

Three of Coca-Cola’s key focus areas are of special interest to the wine industry. The first is climate change resilience. “Wine farms need to assess climate-related risks and have climate adaptation and resilience plans in place to address current and anticipated impacts of climate change while avoiding additional harm to nature or people,” she says.

The second is water management. “Steps need to be taken to ensure the long-term sustainability of water resources in balance with community and ecosystem requirements,” she says. “These measures could include measuring water use (irrigation), maximizing water use efficiency, and minimizing water quality impacts from wastewater discharges, erosion, and nutrient/agrochemical runoff. Farms should especially avoid converting important water-related areas such as wetlands.”

Finally, waste management, under the familiar mantra of reduce, reuse and recycle. “There are methods to properly manage organic waste to enhance soil health, including composting. This also applies to packaging and bottling. We want beverage packaging to be part of the circular economy.”

Partners in wine

Collaboration and partnerships are crucial for stewardship, says Phillipine. “Partnerships between government, the private sector, NGOs, and communities expand our ability to help improve reliable access to safe drinking water, create economic opportunities for those most in need, and limit the impact of our operations on the environment through our waste management initiatives.”

In response to the health challenges millions of Africans face living without access to safe drinking water, the Coca-Cola Foundation (TCCF) funded the Replenish Africa Initiative (RAIN) in 2010. The project improves access to safe water and create employment and skills training for women and youth through water project activities.

Since 2019, RAIN has facilitated clearing 3 400 ha in priority catchment areas. RAIN works with partners such as the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT), The Nature Conservancy, World Wide Fund for Nature-South Africa (WWF-SA) and Living Lands.

WWF Wolseley Project Manager and RAIN partner Shelly Fuller says collaborating on South Africa’s Strategic Water Source areas – ‘water factories’ that provide 50% of the country’s surface water – is one of their major goals. “Within one of those critical catchments, the Groenland near Elgin in the Western Cape, the collaboration with the Coca-Cola Foundation will complement existing alien-clearing projects to increase water security for the catchment,” she says.

“This will also support the development of a local biomass economy, incentivise the adoption of regenerative agricultural practices such as mulching and soil carbon enhancers, and upskill local contractors to develop financially independent business models. Ideally, this project model is replicable to other catchments and can fund the ongoing costs of alien vegetation clearing.”

Louise Stafford, spokesperson for The Nature Conservancy, says their work with Coca-Cola supports their sustainability goals by focusing on long-term nature-based solutions. “Clearing invasive alien plants from strategic source water areas will have positive consequences for years to come. Engaging with landowners, including the wine industry, is key as we’re all committed to ensuring a healthy catchment for the future.”

Much of the land in these Strategic Water Source areas is owned by farmers, and in the Western Cape many of them are fruit and wine farms. For more than 15 years, the WWF Conservation Champion programme has therefore partnered with the South African wine industry to recognise the its environmental leaders and showcase the exceptional work South African wine farms are doing in their pursuit of farming with nature, rather than against it.

“As 95% of the wine is produced in a global biodiversity hotspot – the Cape Floral Kingdom – this partnership is critical to ensure that the services from nature that the wine farms depend on (like fresh water and clean air) are valued and restored and maintained,” Shelly says.

Conscious consumers

Getting consumers on board is crucial. “To tap into the purchasing power of the conscious consumer is a powerful trend that can help tip the value system for biodiversity,” Shelly says. “Those consumers like to know how the product is made and support those businesses restoring the human and natural capital while producing their export quality products. However, not everyone understands the role their purchases play in the destruction or restoration of our natural resources – which are the foundation of our society.”

“The threat of ‘Day Zero’ impacted the lives of all Capetonians and made securing Cape Town’s freshwater supply a top priority,” Louise adds. “In addition to projects like ours, the average person plays a huge role in reducing unnecessary water use. Engaging the public in maintaining our country’s water supply is key to success.”

With so many causes and so much information out there, consumers increasingly rely on trusted product labels to guide their decisions. “Our WWF Conservation Champions carry a striking sugarbird and protea logo, both endemic to the Cape Floral Kingdom,” Shelly says. “Consumers can trust that the wine farms with this hard-earned status take their commitment to farm in harmony with nature very seriously.”

WATCH: Stewards of the Land (WWF South Africa)

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