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Corporations Face Uphill Battle in Achieving 2030 Water Sustainability Targets

by Anna

Major corporations operating in water-intensive industries, spanning clothing, food, beverages, and technology, are striving to become more responsible stewards of the freshwater resources they consume. The urgency of this initiative is underscored by the increasing frequency of extreme weather events linked to climate change, such as droughts and floods, which pose significant threats to their supply chains. However, a recent analysis by sustainability nonprofit Ceres reveals that of the 72 companies assessed over the past year, few are on track to meet their 2030 water sustainability goals.

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Ceres launched an initiative last year aimed at urging companies with substantial water footprints to safeguard these resources and address associated financial risks. In its latest analysis, Ceres found that most of the evaluated companies, including industry giants like Coca-Cola, General Mills, and Amazon, have established targets but are struggling to make significant progress toward achieving them.

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Kirsten James, Senior Program Director for Water at Ceres, emphasized the need for companies to do better, signaling the gap between ambition and action in the realm of water sustainability.

The companies selected by Ceres for evaluation were chosen from four sectors based on their size and water impact. The assessment criteria included commitments to safeguard water quantity and quality, protect ecosystems, and contribute to improving access to water and sanitation in the communities where they operate. Data was drawn from publicly available sources, including company filings and voluntary disclosures up to March.

Notably, none of the assessed companies scored above 70% of the available points. While nearly a dozen managed to be rated as “On Track” in achieving their goals with scores exceeding 50%, others faced significant challenges.

Coca-Cola, for example, reported a 10% improvement in water use efficiency in 2022 compared to 2015. The company aspires to achieve 100% circular water use at 175 locations by 2030, but it provided no detailed information on the likelihood of reaching this goal or the progress made thus far. Coca-Cola also highlighted that its primary water footprint lies in the cultivation of agricultural ingredients, not in the manufacturing process.

Tech giants like Amazon and Apple are grappling with the need for substantial water consumption to cool their sprawling data centers. However, their progress toward achieving water sustainability goals is currently below 20%, according to the Ceres report.

General Mills, a food company, has made significant strides in meeting its 2030 water-related targets, achieving a 65% progress rate. Mary Jane Melendez, the company’s Chief Sustainability Global Impact Officer, pointed out that 85% of their water use is in agriculture, where extreme weather events have impacted their sourcing regions in recent years.

Michael Kiparsky, Director of the Wheeler Water Institute at the University of California, Berkeley, stressed the importance of companies reporting their water-related sustainability targets and mapping their water use across supply chains. He noted that corporations’ self-interest in safeguarding their operations from water-related vulnerabilities could drive them to take more substantial steps to protect freshwater resources.

While Ceres’ metrics and reporting do not carry official legal accountability, Kiparsky highlighted the influence of financial motivations and corporate responsibility in encouraging companies to prioritize water sustainability.

Ceres aims to update its findings every two years, underscoring its commitment to monitoring and promoting progress in water sustainability among major corporations.

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