Why Coca-Cola is betting on water security innovation

Food production uses an enormous amount of water. To produce enough food to feed global populations, an estimated 240 million litres are required every second.

The problem is that freshwater is a limited natural resource, and climate change is exacerbating water stress and security. According to experts at the Global Commission on the Economics of Water​, due to mismanaged water supply and human-caused changed rainfall patterns, we now face the prospect of a 40% shortfall in freshwater supply by 2030.

For industry, this is alarming news – and not for food manufacturers alone. For members of the beverage industry, water is often the primary ingredient in their products. The Water Footprint Network estimates it takes 170-310L of water to produce 500ml of soda.

Coca-Cola Europacific Partners (CCEP) is well aware of the problem. In an effort to move the needle on water stress, the beverage major – which is involved in the marketing, production and distribution of Coca-Cola, Capri-Sun, and Monster Energy brands, amongst others – is on the lookout for water specialists and innovators to help future-proof the sector.

CCEP Ventures partners with DSV on venture building programme

In a new programme aimed at discovering water-saving technologies, CCEP’s innovation arm CCEP Ventures is teaming up with venture creator Deep Science Ventures (DSV).

The partners want to find water specialists and innovators (rather than already established start-ups) capable of developing novel technologies that can be turned into businesses. CCEP and DSV will then work closely with these innovators, with the hope of making new solutions available for the broader industry.

According to experts, mismanaged water supply and human-caused changed rainfall patterns means we now face the prospect of a 40% shortfall in freshwater supply by 2030. GettyImages/Orla

The partnership is currently looking for between one and three companies to develop ‘innovative technology’, a CCEP spokesperson explained. “As part of the programme the DSV team will dedicate several hours every week to each founder or founding team to provide tailored guidance, resources and feedback covering every aspect of what it takes to successfully launch a new venture from both the tech and commercial perspectives.”

Once a new venture is incorporated with pre-seed investment, co-founders will own a majority stake in the business.

‘Water is critical to our entire business’

According to CCEP, securing water supply for its business – and for beverage manufactures more broadly – is a non-negotiable. Water is ‘critical’ to CCEP’s entire business.

“It’s the main ingredient in our products, essential to our manufacturing processes and critical to ensuring a sustainable supply of the agricultural ingredients we depend on,” a CCEP spokesperson told this publication.

The majority of the water footprint of CCEP’s products comes from its agricultural supply chain, and ultimately, is ‘vital to the long-term resilience of [its] business’.

“With climate change exacerbating water scarcity globally, we know that solving these challenges will create wide-spanning benefits. That’s why at CCEP we’re thinking innovatively to address water scarcity, to ensure we are operating in the most environmentally friendly way and mitigating our impact.

“We’re doing this by taking a value chain approach to water stewardship, focusing on water efficiency within our own operations and working to protect the future sustainability of the water sources that our business, our communities and our suppliers rely on.”

What kinds of water saving solutions is CCEP looking for?

At a broad level, CCEP is looking for solutions that will help the business supply water affordably, and at scale, without causing environmental damage.

Not all existing technologies meet these requirements. Seawater desalination, for example, or sourcing water from the atmosphere still struggle to meet the reliable supply of millions of litres of high-quality water per day at an affordable cost, the spokesperson explained.

“For example, the latest atmospheric water capture technologies are in the range of thousands of litres per day and desalination represents its own environmental burden by generating large amounts of brine.”

It may be that the project finds solutions to overcome challenges associated with existing technologies, or draw on other established practices – for example technologies that restores the reliability of groundwater or reservoirs.

water Dr_Microbe

Not all existing water saving technologies are affordable, accessible, and environmentally sustainable. GettyImages/Dr_Microbe

Alternatively, the solutions could draw on new ‘breakthrough’ discoveries that have yet to secure the funding or support to be commercially trailed, we were told. “The project aims to determine the optimal solution to tackle water scarcity in industry, and support its development.”

Beverage-specific innovation in focus

Although water saving technology can be relevant for multiple businesses (and CCEP acknowledges potential solutions may be applicable for other industries), the focus is very much on innovations that can serve CCEP and the ‘broader beverage industry’.

“The aim is that any business created from the programme would provide a solution to sustainable water generation to help us meet our water commitments,” said the CCEP spokesperson.

As part of CCEP’s sustainability strategy ‘This is Forward’, the company has committed to replenishing 100% of the water used in its beverages each year.

“We understand the value this could bring to the industry, so we plan to commercialise these solutions – so they are available to benefit the entire beverage industry.”