Addressing Local Water Data GapsJuly 11, 2018 | BIER
Taking the First Step to Better Data Through Basin Collaborations
We’re living in the age of data; it’s seemingly everywhere, helping businesses uncover insights that fuel better decision-making and enable quicker innovation.
But for beverage companies, a critical data link is missing: accessible, reliable, and actionable watershed-specific data. Not only is local data simply nonexistent in many cases, but beverage brands also have to contend with aligning local stakeholders, limited data granularity, a shortage of skilled local experts, data variability due to climate change, and wide-ranging levels of maturity when it comes to public water challenge awareness and scientific data collection.
Of course, water is the lifeblood of the beverage business—and protecting this shared resource is not only the right thing to do for sustainable watersheds and communities, but a business imperative. But in order to do that, we need data with local context. And as they say, it takes a village.
Since our inception in 2006, the members of Beverage Industry Environmental Roundtable (BIER) have been making a collective effort to enhance water stewardship inside and outside the beverage sector. After publishing our Performance in Watershed Context Insights Paper and framework, we’re focused on narrowing that data divide.
How? The first step is laying a collaborative foundation. Many of our member companies are actively pursuing basin-level partnerships to enhance collection, community collaboration, and bring insights back to the BIER table and to interested stakeholders.
Five of our member representatives got together for a Q&A session to share how their initiatives got started and what they’ve learned so far. Those members include: Paul Bowen of The Coca-Cola Company, Andy Battjes of Brown-Forman, Kim Marotta of Molson Coors and MillerCoors, Ron Bohlmeijer of HEINEKEN, and Rick Price of Beam Suntory. Below we share their stories from the trenches.
Knowing Where to Start
Q: How did you decide where to start your collaborations? How did you identify where the greatest opportunities were?
Paul Bowen (The Coca-Cola Company): We go back to our source vulnerability assessments (SVAs) and we look at the risks that are identified in that watershed or in that water basin for our particular facility.
And it’s not all hydrogeological. I mean, it may be: How much does your water cost? What’s [the local municipality’s] treatment capacity, pumping capacity, storage capacity, or distribution figures? What’s the political climate like? What’s the social economic climate like with respect to water?
All of those things come into play so we get a comprehensive—or as comprehensive as we can develop—risk assessment. And depending on where we identify risk determines how engage and who we engage.
So, if there’s a water stress due to clear cutting, we might engage an NGO who helps with reforestation. If there’s activity in the realm around access to water, then we might engage with different NGO and different partners that help provide safe access to water. If it’s political, we might engage with our government affairs group and through their various contacts to help with policy making and rule formation.
So, there’s just a variety. And again, it depends on the risk we’ve identified and how we want to mitigate those risks.
Kim Marotta (Molson Coors/MillerCoors): Like my colleagues here, we’re focused on areas within our facilities and agricultural supply chain with the greatest risk. We’ve conducted a watershed risk assessment across our breweries to understand the risks for water availability, quality, and quantity, as well as areas of high water stress.
Of course, we’re focusing on the most-stressed watersheds first. Among the priority areas identified were sites in India, Texas, and California.
Then we looked at our materiality assessments to put together our strategy—with our 2025 goal of protecting our local water resources in high-risk watersheds through partnerships at the forefront. We talked to internal and external stakeholders in our priority areas to find the most significant areas of risk and impact from their perspective. Unsurprisingly, water—local watersheds in particular—were noted.
Ron Bohlmeijer (HEINEKEN): We simply realized that we cannot act alone if we want to make change. Water is a shared resource and its scarcity is a shared problem, so we have to take collective action.
Our approach and starting point is always related to risk mitigation on a large scale; we focus on breweries located in water-stressed areas and then we initiate activities. We follow a rigid process. Once every five years we do a global risk assessment (a higher-level screen) and use the results to prioritize breweries that are in water-stressed areas. Then we check to see if we’ve completed an SVA at that location. If we have and the SVA is more than 10 years old, we have it refreshed.
Andy Battjes (Brown-Forman): At the moment, we’re completing SVAs for our two at-risk water basins. Our decision to conduct SVAs was based on what our local teams were experiencing on the ground, as well as other potential issues we were seeing.
We’re using the standard WRI Aqueduct approach to monitor and verify risks—a high-level screening to gain insight. From there, we plan to move to specific, high-risk watersheds that are most sensitive from a business perspective and do the same type of analysis there.
Rick Price (Beam Suntory): We took a look at two specific areas: 1) Watersheds with high water stress, which for our business were within Northwestern India and Mexico. 2) The sites with the highest water usage; Kentucky, specifically.
Getting to Work
Q: How has your organization started to engage with partners at the basin level? What kind of work are you doing together?
Paul (The Coca-Cola Company): Most of this is done through our public affairs and communications sustainability group, as well as our foundation.
Our current strategy is based around returning to nature all the water used in our products and in their manufacturing. So, we have a very narrow focus right now, it’s just on the manufacturing piece.
But there are various projects with local partners underway aimed at facilitating or enhancing data collection, creating public awareness, and making sustainability improvements—everything from measuring and improving water quality to sustainability resources to water access to sanitation to reforestation to watershed development. The list is extensive.
At the same time, we’re looking at how to use less water [in our own facilities]. How we can take less so we have to replenish less. It kind of sounds self-serving, but we’re trying to have a sustainable use of water as well as returning water back.
Kim (Molson Coors/MillerCoors): Once we identified our watersheds of greatest risk, we identified other stakeholders to partner with within those watersheds, such as government entities, corporations, nonprofits, and agriculture, among others. Of course, different basins require different types of stakeholder groups.
For our breweries in California, Texas and Colorado, access to clean water, quantity of water, and the quality of water in local watersheds is a top concern. We approached stakeholders by casting a wide net, hosting a meeting or gathering to bring everyone to the table to understand the risks, collaborate, and move forward together.
In California, we were one of the first to join the California Water Action Collaborative (CWAC), with members being from a range of local companies based in the region, water masters, utilities, and so on. And like BIER, the organization has been involved in development of the context-based approach to corporate water stewardship. Of course, one of the main goals of this year’s pilot program for the approach is working with local stakeholders to align measurement.
Finally, in Texas—where we have a brewery at risk in the Trinity River Watershed —we identified a local non-profit partner for a small pilot program. We worked with cattle farm rancher, Gary Price, doing local watershed work to plant native vegetation, helping to keep his ground moist so that he didn’t have to bring in any hay. We invested in that partnership and during the 2010-2011 droughts, he didn’t lose a single head of cattle, which was unusual during that time period.
As a result, others in the area were interested. We brought other ranchers, farmers, and landowners on board, and eventually the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS). We’ve continued our work to bring more partners into the fold through holding “Watershed Happy Hours.” And we’re partnering with local government, utilities, and agriculture stakeholders to create plans for better measurement and collection, investments in watershed infrastructure, and so on.
Ron (HEINEKEN): We’ve engaged in several different ways. In the beginning, we started building relationships with local stakeholders, which we identified with the help of our local team.
We organized stakeholder meetings and held them on our premises, but it was small scale and we determined it wasn’t enough. Our second collaboration was with a large NGO. They had good local stakeholder relationships to help us set projects and engage; however, it was a commercial partnership, so it did involve additional costs before any activity on the ground was initiated. Of course, we didn’t always have a network in a specific watershed, so we partnered with the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) to help us with their local networks. We’d then hold 3-day workshops where we discussed the root causes of water stress in the river basin and what we together could do about it, and highlighted the need for better local water data.
Throughout the stakeholder engagement process, there have been some key learnings:
- Engagement can be complicated with certain stakeholders. For example, local resources were not always convinced that our intentions were good; they were suspicious of our motives for stepping in on a local scale.
- The workshops were extremely effective, but we still had some work ahead of us. Following the workshop, stakeholder organizations would look at us and ask: “What’s next?” We found that we’re not necessarily capable of taking the lead in this type of actionable, on-the-ground activity.
- Finally, partnering at the government level gets very complicated and time-intensive, which isn’t necessarily surprising.
So, now we’re developing a new strategy to try to explore the appropriate level of engagement at specific locations. For example, in the Monterrey, Mexico watershed we were able to get cooperation from a range of stakeholders and government buy-in.
Andy (Brown-Forman): We aren’t quite there yet. Once we complete our SVAs, we’ll put together an action plan that will involve some form of collaboration.
In addition, we’re also working on the next generation of our water sustainability goals. They’re being evaluated now—and once the SVAs are complete—we’ll take the step to move beyond our facilities and look more closely at supply chains; how we measure the impact in the supply chain and what kind of improvements we will put in place to reduce those impacts. Forming partnerships to collect and analyze data will be important.
Rick (Beam Suntory): In Kentucky, we’re partnering with the Kentucky Water Resources Research Institute and the University of Kentucky to get more specific watershed data for all our properties and locations. In addition, we’re working with the state’s division of water, private organizations such as the Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest, and other local watch groups.
In India, near the Pakistan border, we’re working to establish a wellhead protection plan. Unfortunately, there are not a lot of local groups to partner with, but we have a very good relationship with city and regional governments. In addition, we’ve partnered with an expert in water basins called Ramboll Group, which is based in Mumbai.
As for Mexico, we’re in the earlier stages of engagement, and are currently working to identify a wellhead protection area.
Q: What’s an interesting insight you’ve gleaned through your collaborative, basin-level work?
Paul (The Coca-Cola Company): I think I knew this, but I also hoped that it was true. As I’ve visited over 80 different countries, visited manufacturing sites in those different countries, and talked with people from many more countries that I haven’t visited, I’ve learned that our associates are genuinely interested and genuinely want to replenish. They want to help us meet the strategy, they want to use less water, they want to do the right things.
And it’s very refreshing to see that attitude even in countries that are water starved and even in those countries that are water rich, to see them want to do the right thing. They want to help the company be a sustainable user of water, and they’re willing to do things. They’re willing to make changes in the way they do manufacturing. They’re willing to look at ways to engage partners.
And I found it’s being carried beyond the water sphere. They want to do things from a packaging standpoint. They want to do things from a waste-recovery. It’s not just about water. It’s about our entire sustainability platform.
Kim (Molson Coors/MillerCoors): It starts with one person—most often one grower. We have a strong partnership with our barley growers, from whom we buy barley directly. But in our brewery watersheds, the growers and landowners aren’t part of our supply chain, so we need to build that relationship and trust.
Our partnership with Gary Price is a great example. He’s a strong leader in Texas. In addition, John Stevenson is a great leader in our barley supply chain. They helped us get the momentum going and create change that multiplies to savings of hundreds of thousands of gallons of water.
And finding the right person at the start is extremely important. Almost every one of our partnerships starts with a one-to-many approach. So, start small and demonstrate success, and then you can grow.
Ron (HEINEKEN): Stakeholders need to be taken by the hand, which is not something that’s always part of our core business. In addition, we learned that in some cultures we operate in a very sensitive business context as an alcohol company and we’re not seen as a “preferred partner” by most local stakeholders. There we have to keep our visibility in partnerships low and we had to adapt our strategy.
Andy (Brown-Forman): Once we start the process, I’ll certainly be reporting back to all of you here. Stay tuned!
Rick (Beam Suntory): The biggest insight is that people, whether they’re customers or not, are hungry and interested to learn about where their water comes from and how the community can protect it. It’s a very positive response.
Where We Go from Here
The local watershed data divide is wide. Data simply doesn’t exist in many cases or it doesn’t have the basin-specific granularity necessary to paint an accurate picture of local context.
But there’s little doubt among our members that closing the gap will help drive a more sustainable future for all and enable more informed short- and long-term business decision-making.
And it all starts with forming local partnerships with a range of local stakeholders, experts, and organizations to build rapport, align goals around measurement, targets, and actions, and get to work.
Learn more about the work we’re doing to enhance water stewardship and security.
The Beverage Industry Environmental Roundtable (BIER) is a technical coalition of leading global beverage companies working together to advance environmental sustainability within the beverage sector.