BEIJING — The Coca-Cola Co. announced Tuesday it is funding a $20 million project to conserve seven major rivers worldwide and also will revamp its bottling practices to reduce pollution and water use.
Under the program, Coca-Cola will try to make up for the 76 billion gallons of water it uses each year to make Coke, Sprite, Fanta and its other bottled drinks.
“Essentially the pledge is to return every, every drop we use back to nature,” Coca-Cola Chief Executive Officer E. Neville Isdell said at a news conference. “If the communities around ... our bottling plants do not flourish and are not sustainable, our business will not be sustainable in the future.”
The campaign was announced at the conservation group World Wildlife Foundation’s annual meeting, being held this year in Beijing.
The company also will explore how to eventually set targets to improve water efficiency for its water-thirsty agricultural partners, including sugar cane producers, Isdell said.
That is important because of the huge amount of water needed to grow sugar cane, said Jason Clay, a WWF researcher.
“For every liter of Coke, just the sugar in it requires between 175 and 250 liters (46 to 66 gallons) of water. This is the big issue,” he said. “They really need to get a handle on sugar.”
Clay said Coca-Cola was encouraging sugar cane producers to conserve water, and was looking at sugar alternatives.
Though Isdell played down the China connection, saying the initiative was a global effort, water is a major problem for the Asian country. Scarce across much of its north and polluted and overused elsewhere, water could constrain China’s future development if not effectively managed, environmentalists say.
The main part of Coca-Cola’s conservation effort will be the $20 million project with the WWF to protect sections of major rivers in North America, Europe, Africa and Asia.
The project will include rivers and streams in the southeastern United States, such as Alabama’s Cahaba River. The Rio Grande/Rio Brave river system, which flows from Colorado through to the Gulf of Mexico, also is part of the project.
Others included are the Danube River in Europe, the Yangtze and Mekong rivers in Asia, coastal East African basins from southern Somalia to South Africa, including Lake Malawi, and the Mesoamerican Reef in Latin America.
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