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Nestle’s water report raises thorny questions

By Toby Webb, Editor

Just been briefly to a discussion hosted by the IBLF (www.iblf.org) on business and water. Nestle’s CFO was speaking, along with Will Day from Care and other development folks. Fiona Harvey from the FT was also there, mainly it seems to pitch their special report coming out later this week on the topic.

Thursday is World Water Day, and Nestle’s new report on the topic is now out (is this an issue grab by them in belated attempt to catch Unilever, we can hope). Called, in typical humble Nestle terms “The Nestle water management report” it has some interesting stats in it. The company has reduced water usuage across a variety of areas such as litres used per 1kg of product (down 27% to 6.85 litres per kilo), and to produce one litre of bottled water (down 30% to 0.86 of a litre).

Its impressive that Nestle is taking this seriously (as their CEO stressed to me in an interview last year: http://www.ethicalcorp.com/content.asp?ContentID=4544).

Focusing the health benefits of water is admirable (while also self serving) as is a focus on agriculture and water stressed reasons in general.

Having scanned the report a couple of things stand out to me, to be explored further in these pages, and I would hope, elsewhere in future:

1) Nestle’s “Managing Water for Consumers” section in their report contains no mention of plastics recycling, composting, or climate change. Surely the impact of bottled water once sold should be a huge issue for the world’s largest bottled water companies? Perhaps they intend to address this point separately.

2) What happens when the easy wins are over? Once facilities are as efficient as they can be, and supply chains as “de-carbonised” as possible (ok, so that is a long long way off and the boundaries are not clear) – what about the bigger question? This is, of course, the role of companies in ‘good’ lobbying of governments for better water governance in the interests of all. Nestle’s Brabeck was hesitant when talking about lobbying governments in depth/detail in our interview last year. But it seems to me if they really want to “create shared value” – what better way than this?

3) How bad is bottled water in general? While it creates unneeded rubbish in richer countries it is essential in other nations for survival. What’s the right balance, can/should there be an attempt to get to one? There’s room for more balanced debate here.

4) Are international water companies actually becoming consultants on water? This ‘solution’ has been mooted for a long time. Partnerships and development people have been talking about it for years, and we have covered it, in-depth in Ethical Corporation’s pages. But does this require a totally different business model for some folks in big water companies, are they actually commercially interested in this area?

Readers are welcome to post their responses. We’ll do our best to look into these questions for our May issue, and others you might suggest.

2 Comments

  1. Water debate on PSD blog

    With World Water Day coming on March 22, PSD blog will run this week an online dialogue on water issues between the World Bank’s Tracy Hart and Corinne Figueredo from the IFC.

    The experts will cover some of the latest thinking on water treatment, financing of high-risk, micro-scale technologies, and the role of private and public sector in water supply.

    http://psdblog.worldbank.org/

  2. Water debate on PSD blog

    With World Water Day coming on March 22, PSD blog will run this week an online dialogue on water issues between the World Bank’s Tracy Hart and Corinne Figueredo from the IFC.

    The experts will cover some of the latest thinking on water treatment, financing of high-risk, micro-scale technologies, and the role of private and public sector in water supply.

    http://psdblog.worldbank.org

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