Water as Corporate Sustainability Driver

coke water

I recently heard Bruce Karas, Coca Cola’s VP of Environment and Sustainability, speak about that corporation’s continuing efforts to embed sustainability in their culture. And, while he was referring specifically to the beverage maker’s activities and increasing awareness, I kept seeing how what Coke was doing was based on larger truths to which more corporations should be paying attention.

One big topic for Coca Cola, no surprise, is water. This natural resource is a huge risk that needs to be taken into account for their daily business operations and continued success. It’s so important and so easy to map out in black and white numbers that even the finance guys can easily “get” the benefit. Because of this, they, the bottom line deciders, can be supportive of change in how the organization handles water challenges.

As such, Karas turned to a discussion of Coca Cola’s partnerships with NGOs around local watersheds in the communities where its plants are located. From his description, it sounded like the give and take in those relationships was incredible, and that involved parties tended to learn much in the process. The stories about how such partnerships can work out well for everyone are important tales to tell. For, how these watershed collaborations are communicated seems crucial to sustaining what Karas referred to as “the social license” to operate in the wide variety of regions where Coca Cola does.

On the employee engagement front, specifically, Karas spoke of Coca Cola employee volunteer watershed (and oceans) work, and what they experienced or came away with after those projects. As well, he used the example of a Coca Cola plant manager in Texas (an obviously water-troubled area) who took it upon himself to take some of his employees to the local utility. This field trip gave them all an up close and personal experience with what happens with water, where it comes from and where it goes.

Historically, and for most corporations, the typical volunteer work days and field trips may have been more symbolic – akin to handing a giant check over to a cause (and being sure to get a good photo!). These days, such occasions need to be much more experiential, in order to serve their purpose – and projects like these have the potential to deliver a threefold punch (at least):

– Reparation of watershed, crucial to community and to the involved corporations sustaining business.
– Powerful volunteer projects, in the outdoors, where groups of employees experience water at its connection to the land and can commune with one another in all they learn,.
– At-home results, where a corporate volunteer’s new awareness of water use/efficiency leads to behavior change in using their own faucets and toilets.

In a related aside, and since covering corporate sustainability trends and testing grounds in the Pacific Northwest specifically is now part of my mission (so-named “Ecotopia Reports”), I took note of something Karas called Coke’s Bellevue, WA, plant: a “center of excellence.” Apparently, this plant brings managers from all over the country (maybe the world?) to be schooled in the cutting edge sustainability-related measures they’ve been testing. The Seattle-area plant now diverts 98 percent of its waste away from the landfill. I’ve heard about other corporations using their PacNW locations/plants/offices as examples and using them to get their everyone up to speed, and (perhaps more importantly), more excited about the sustainability-related possibilities.

Source: Matter Network (Andrea Learned)

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