Thirsty work: report ranks food companies on water management
There can be no food without water - and, now more than ever, it’s vital that major food companies use water sustainably, according to a report from Ceres, a non-profit sustainability advocacy group.
Food production is one of the most water-intensive industries globally, using 70% of the world’s freshwater supplies. As the world’s population increases, using water sustainably will become even more important.
The report, ‘Feeding Ourselves Thirsty: How the Food Sector is Managing Global Water Risks’, ranks the 37 largest US food companies based on how effectively they manage water.
Unilever, Coca-Cola, Bunge and Smithfield Foods topped the rankings. The lowest-ranking companies were Monster Beverage and Pinnacle Foods, scoring just one point each. The full list of company scores is available from www.ceres.org/foodwaterrisk#scores.
The majority (23) of these food companies have started evaluating water risks in their direct operations but two thirds (22) are still not evaluating water issues in their agricultural supply chains, where the vast majority of water risks lie.
Only 30% of the companies considered water risks as part of major business planning and investment decision making, the report found. Of these, only Nestle and Unilever reported using a ‘true cost’ for water in analysing the ROI of water-efficiency capital spending.
Just 16% of the companies have sustainable agriculture policies that address water use. Coca-Cola, General Mills, Kellogg and Unilever are the only companies to have set time-bound targets to source the majority of their agricultural inputs from farmers using responsible water practices.
“The twin challenges of global water scarcity and pollution are contributing to a water availability emergency that threatens the profitability of food companies and long-term food and water security,” said Brooke Barton, senior water program director at Ceres, who co-authored the report.
“The good news is that more food companies are beginning to respond to these risks, but they must deepen and broaden their efforts, especially in regard to agricultural supply chains.”
The report also makes specific recommendations for improving water efficiency and quality across food production operations and supply chains to reduce risks and protect water sources.
To read the full report, visit www.ceres.org/issues/water/agriculture/water-risks-food-sector/food-water-risks.
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