PepsiCo Dives into Its Water Footprint in 5 Water-Stressed Regions

PepsiCo operates nearly 700 facilities in more than 200 countries worldwide. Together, these operations produce hundreds of product lines, among them billion-dollar brands like Frito Lay, Tropicana and Quaker, in addition to the company's famous namesake.

While these facilities differ in the type of products they make, they do have a few things in common: They use lots of water. Many are located in water-stressed regions.

This makes it clear to PepsiCo that protecting water resources and ensuring safe supplies isn't just good for business, it's vital for its short- and long-term survival. So the company today is announcing a partnership with The Nature Conservancy to study the watersheds surrounding five of its manufacturing facilities in the hope that the lessons learned there may be applied across the beverage giant's global operations.

"We needed a toolkit to help all our individual plants in all their various settings determine the most feasible approach to protecting and restoring their water supply," said Liese Dallbauman, PepsiCo's Director of Water Stewardship.

I caught up with Dallbauman last week ahead of the release of a white paper detailing the early findings [PDF] of The Nature Conservancy pilot program. The company is releasing the white paper today during World Water Week in Stockholm, but the findings will eventually become part of a larger and more detailed report.

While individual PepsiCo plants and business units have for years engaged their surrounding communities on water issues, Dallbauman told me, The Nature Conservancy pilot project is the first concerted corporate-level water effort that goes beyond the company's four walls.

In addition to becoming one of the first companies to declare water as a human right, PepsiCo has set several water-related goals, including a 20 percent water use efficiency improvement per production unit by 2015, and achieving what it calls a "positive water impact" in its operations. A little backstory: The company's India unit had already met its goal in 2009 to deliver a "positive water balance" -- returning more water to the community than it consumed in its operations -- following charges it was depleting water sources in the water-scarce country. PepsiCo has now gone further by striving for positive water impact.

"We needed to look not only at the amount of water, but also the quality of water," Dallbauman said. "People don't just need enough water, they need clean water. Positive water impact is intended to include both the amount of water and quality of water."