Our Water Wake-up Call; What Will Be Yours?

Our world has a water problem. It is an issue my company has grappled with for years in many parts of the world.

It's no secret global water supplies are stressed. Some estimates suggest just 15 years from now our world will need 40 percent more fresh water than we can easily access today. And while the situation is likely to get worse before it gets better, I'm concerned by the lack of urgency in business and society as a whole to address it. Meaningful action is happening in some spheres, but it seems those not facing immediate scarcity or quality issues often take water for granted.

Many experts predict conflict and population shifts linked to the struggle for water. I predict that if you aren't responsibly managing water in your business, you won't be in business 20 years from now. I'm not saying this as a detached observer.

Twelve years ago, our business was accused of misusing water in India during a time of drought. While we were ultimately found to be acting within the law and using our own water supplies, we suffered plant closures and our reputation was damaged. Some consumers walked away from our brands.

Looking back, this was a difficult but important learning experience for us. The impact we felt went well beyond India. Back then, we were focused on water use inside our operations, but it wasn't enough.

It was our wake-up call.

As a result, we made water a key business priority and did a comprehensive assessment of our water use and risks associated with it as well as opportunities for reduction - something I'd encourage all to do. We also worked with our bottling partners, suppliers and others to take an active role in conservation and community engagement. And, in 2007, we made a commitment to replenish all the water we use, returning to nature and the communities we serve every liter that goes into our beverages and their production.

At the time, this goal was aspirational. It was designed out of both responsibility and necessity. Today, thanks to work in watershed restoration, conservation and safe water access--and with the help of many cross-sector partners--independent auditors confirm we've achieved our goal five years ahead of schedule. And, we're committed to maintaining this performance as our business grows.

We're only one business. The difference we can make, even with all our partners pulling in the same direction, is limited. Which is one reason I believe we all need to do more--working together--to conserve and responsibly manage this precious resource for the future. While we're committed to doing our part, water is a shared resource and responsibility across business, government, civil society, communities and individuals.

Our world is more interconnected than ever. A drought on one side of the globe is more than a local or regional event. It can send damaging ripples across the ecology--and the economy--of the entire planet.

There's no simple solution. Instead, relieving water stress will take many solutions and many collaborative partners.

Today, I invite leaders and individuals across all sectors of society, all around the world, to join us in helping protect and conserve water.

If you're already leading the way, thank you. If you're making an effort, I encourage you to keep pressing forward. If you're not yet engaged, I hope you'll take a hard look at the water stresses facing our world today and act.

Water is one of the major issues that threatens the world we share and transcends the views we don't. Let this be your wake-up call instead of waiting for a direr one. Action defines our tomorrow.