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PepsiCo’s 3-step local-first approach to water stewardship

Sponsored: With all water issues being local, PepsiCo takes a local-first approach to water stewardship projects and investments.

PepsiCo supports water replenishment projects in the Colorado River Basin

PepsiCo supports water replenishment projects in the Colorado River Basin. Image courtesy of PepsiCo.

This article is sponsored by PepsiCo.

Climate change, drought and growing demand have increasingly placed a burden on the world’s water supply. As much as half of the world's population could be living in areas facing water scarcity by as early as 2025, according to UNICEF. Companies such as PepsiCo must work to address water scarcity by deploying expertise and resources.

Water stewardship has long been a top priority at PepsiCo, with water being important for its business and building a positive value chain. As one of the first companies of PepsiCo’s size to acknowledge access to water as a human right, it has a vision to become net water positive by 2030, improving water resources wherever it operates and leaving them in a better state because of its presence.

To achieve this, it has adopted a "net water positive" approach to water stewardship that includes improving water-use efficiency across the value chain; replenishing water within high-stress watersheds, leaving basins with more than 100% of the water consumed while improving watershed health beyond volumetric measures by 2030; adopting the Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS) Standard by 2025; and increasing safe water access for communities that face water insecurity.  

While long-term change requires scale, partnership and engagement from all stakeholders, the impact of deliberate actions and initiatives at the local level customized to meet local needs can’t be overstated. It’s an essential strategic focal point for any organization working toward broader water stewardship goals and milestones.   

No matter your company’s size or where you are in your water stewardship journey, here are three key principles for guiding your organization’s water replenishment initiatives and actions on the ground: 

1. Understand the unique needs of the watershed and the community you’re supporting  

Being good water stewards means committing to understanding the unique water challenges facing each community you operate in. Water is a local issue, and water replenishment efforts must be tailored to solve the breadth of pressures impacting the water supply in a particular region — whether that’s supporting groundwater recharge, wetlands restoration or funding new drinking water infrastructure. Improving water resources in one region, for example, can look vastly different from replenishing water in a drought-prone region.  

In the Verde River watershed, one of Arizona’s most important waterways, PepsiCo recently committed funds to the Salt River Project (SRP) Resilient Water and Forest Restoration Project, which focuses on restoring forest structure, composition and function in a 1,450-acre area of the watershed that supplies water to the Phoenix metropolitan area. Many parts of the watershed are at high risk of wildfire which would harm SRP’s ability to provide reliable water to the Phoenix community. Restoring parts of the Verde River watershed presented PepsiCo with an opportunity to help repair the damage that has already been caused and to improve watershed function to enhance SRP’s ability to provide resilient water supplies for the Phoenix metropolitan area.

A deep understanding of these local challenges is the first and most important step you can take if you want to achieve tangible results. During this process, companies can start by tapping into their own resources and network and talking to local community members and stakeholders, including other businesses who operate in the same basin.  

In Texas, PepsiCo has partnered with the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority (GBRA) to replace deteriorating infrastructure, helping reduce loss in the water supply that thousands of Texas residents, businesses, and wildlife areas in the surrounding basin rely on every day. GBRA, the entity focused on developing, conserving and protecting water resources of the Guadalupe River Basin, has the local knowledge to ensure efforts are focused on the measures that will have the most impact. With several company facilities relying on water from the basin, PepsiCo has a tremendous responsibility to help replenish this water supply. 

Learning about the interests of and challenges faced by those users of the watershed is key to understanding the action you can take. You could use — as PepsiCo does — the Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS) Standard as a framework for identifying local water challenges and engaging community members in defining solutions that drive change. For PepsiCo, the goal is to adopt the AWS Standard across all its high water-risk facilities by 2025, and associates across the globe have attended AWS training sessions to support their implementation of the Standard at facilities falling within the scope of this goal.  

2. Determine how to identify and measure success

Setting clear, measurable science-based goals from the beginning is crucial to success. A company could, for example, set out to measure the volume of water replenished, volume of water treated and/or increased drinking water access. Most important, you’ll want to ensure your local partners are aligned on the metrics of success and have a robust plan for gathering data and tracking progress over time. Consider the primary measurable goal, but also consider additional benefits of the project.

In 2022, PepsiCo set out to support the Colorado River Basin — one of the world’s most water-stressed regions — through a partnership with nonprofit Trout Unlimited focused on building a mile-long channel to connect two segments of the Colorado River. Once completed, the project is expected to restore 50 acres of riverside habitat, enable passage for migratory fish species such as Brown Trout and replenish approximately 380 million gallons of water per year. By having clear updates along the way and understanding the extent to which this project is building water resilience in the region, PepsiCo and Trout Unlimited can make necessary modifications to continue to drive towards the intended impact and scale of this initiative.  

Collaboration works best when there’s adaptability, and keeping track of measurable outcomes also better equips companies and their partners to test and learn, refine approaches and inspire innovative solutions that can be deployed, scaled and replicated by others in the future.  

3. Connect your water stewardship program to your company’s broader sustainability goals  

Before embarking on any watershed initiatives, it’s imperative that your company has assessed its broader impact on water and has set clear, science-based goals that each local initiative contributes to. Partnering with a water consultant or non-profit is a good first step for those looking to get started on their own water journey as they can be another source of support to ensure project selection is informed by both company sustainability goals and local watershed and community needs. 

At PepsiCo, the desire to maintain a resilient water supply for all water users wherever it operates is embedded into the company’s 2030 net water positive vision. This has become the lens through which business decisions are made and water projects are pursued. 

And while water stewardship is just one component of a company’s holistic sustainability journey, it’s crucial to continually assess where and how these strategic, local water efforts are fueling progress toward your broader, long-term ambitions. The tools, partnerships and measurements of success deployed on the ground in local regions can drive significant change on a global scale for the communities you serve and future generations to come.  

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