“Now, every time a consumer drinks a Coca-Cola product, they can have confidence that our company and bottling partners are committed to responsible water use today and tomorrow, Muhtar Kent, chairman and chief executive of the Coca-Cola company said in a statement.
The milestone comes after years of criticism of Coca-Cola’s water practices from environmental and global justice organizations. The company originally announced its water replenishment goal in 2007 following a campaign by anti-poverty group War on Want claiming that Coca-Cola had exacerbated water shortages and contaminated local water supplies in communities around the world, particularly in India.
Just a few years prior, in 2004, officials in the southern Indian state of Kerala had shut down a bottling plant following a protracted legal battle in which local residents argued the plant had overexploited the region’s groundwater. Within the past couple of years, the company has dropped plans for several new facilities in other parts of the country following local protests. And just this year, Coca-Cola shut down a bottling plant in the northern Indian community of Kaladera after local activists claimed the facility was draining groundwater resources.
The controversy didn’t end with the company’s pledge to become “water neutral” by 2020, either. Some have claimed that its replenishment efforts still miss the mark. Amit Srivastana, global resistance director at the global justice group India Resource Center, argued in a December blog post that Coca-Cola’s goal of water neutrality could never actually be achieved.
“Water issues are local in their impact unlike, for example, climate change,” he wrote. “When Coca-Cola extracts water from a depleted aquifer in Varanasi or Jaipur, the impacts are borne by the local communities and farmers that depend upon it to meet their water needs. Replenishing an aquifer hundreds of miles away from the point of extraction, as Coca-Cola has often done to ‘balance’ their water use, has no bearing on the health of the local aquifer which Coca-Cola depletes through its bottling operations, nor the privations suffered by those who depend upon it.”
But the company has argued that “at each of its 863 plants globally, Coca-Cola requires operations to determine the sustainability of the water supply they share with others in terms of quality, quantity, and other issues such as infrastructure to treat and distribute water.” In cases where the sustainability of a water supply is questionable, the company claims, a source water protection plan is implemented to help find solutions for the problem.
“While each plant may not replenish all water to its direct source, Coca-Cola’s policy is to require that all plants work to ensure they do not negatively impact water sources and work with the community on longer term solutions,” the company has stated.
In his statement, Kent — the Coca-Cola Company CEO — also added, “We are keenly aware that our water stewardship work is unfinished and remain focused on exploring next steps to advance our water programs and performance.”