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Coca-Cola Tackles Water Challenges with Mixed Results

At the Coca-Cola Co., it takes 2.36 liters of water to make a liter of product, a figure that has shrunk 13 percent since 2004.

Some regions are more efficient than others: In North America, for example, 1.71 liters of water are needed to make a liter of product, compared 3.23 liters in the Pacific region.

Globally, this puts the company on track to meet a 2020 goal of lowering its water use ratio by 20 percent. But when it comes to recycling the water the company uses in its operations, the company is falling short of a second goal of returning all water used in its manufacturing to the environment "at a level that supports aquatic life by the end of 2010."

"Significant challenges have had an impact on our system achieving 100 percent compliance," the company wrote in its 2009-2010 Sustainability Review released this week. "By the end of 2010, we estimate that 94 percent of system facilities will be compliant with our wastewater treatment standards. Work is under way at the remaining plants to be compliant by the end of 2011."

The Sustainability Review marks the seventh system-wide report from Coca-Cola and its 300-plus bottling partners. The report, which complies with the Global Reporting Initiative, relayed the highs and lows of a company that is both taking strides and facing challenges in lightening its environmental footprint.

An additional water-related goal involves getting its more than 900 bottling plants to comply with its water resource sustainability corporate standard and implementing protection plans by 2013. More than 90 percent of facilities completed water risk surveys in their regions in 2009.

In the realm of greenhouse gas emissions, Coca-Cola set a goal in 2008 that many companies aspire to: Grow its business without growing its emissions. The beverage giant also declared it would reduce its absolute emissions by 5 percent in developed markets.

Both goals -- inspired by its work with WWF -- are based on 2015 target years and 2004 baselines. So far, its absolute emissions in developed countries fell 8 percent. Coca-Cola case volume grew 23 percent from 2004-2009, a period in which its emissions ticked up 12 percent.

"We are making progress," the company wrote in the Sustainability Review, "but we have more work to do to meet these targets."

Other highlights of the report include:

• The company has pledged to recovering the equivalent of half of the bottles and cans it sells globally by 2015. In 2009, direct recovery totaled 36 percent.

• Packaging efficiency efforts, including lightweighting, reduced PET use and increased recycled material use, saved the company 85,000 metric tons of primary packaging, which translates to more than $100 million in cost savings. The company introduced the PlantBottle PET package in 2009, with plans to roll out 2.5 billion packages in 2010.

• Through engagement with Greenpeace, Coca-Cola committed to swapping all coolers and vending machines with HFC-free equipment by the end of 2015. Since 2006, the company has replaced more than 240,000 units, installed more than 3.1 million energy management devices to monitor refrigeration units, and invested more than $60 million in cooling R&D.

• With the exception of one year, absolute system-wide energy use has been on the rise since 2004. When measured against liters of product produced, Coca-Cola's energy efficiency ticked downward in 2009; between 2004 and 2009, its energy efficiency improved 13 percent.


Image CC licensed by Flickr user swruler9284.

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