For ages, water has remained an indispensable resource for the survival of man and the sustainability of the planet. Water fuels our factories, powers agriculture, drives urbanization and supports the optimal functioning of our ecosystems. The United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights declares that the human right to water entitles everyone to sufficient, safe, acceptable, physically accessible, and affordable water for personal and domestic uses. Thus, water is not only an essential resource for the survival of people and the planet, access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation are crucial drivers of sustainable development and poverty eradication.
Yet, according to a report by the 2030 Water Resources Group titled, ‘Charting Our Water Future’, global demand for water will be 40 per cent higher by 2030. This means that the ever-expanding water demand of the world’s growing population and economy, coupled with the climate change impact, are making water scarcity a reality particularly in developing countries. This dilemma, according to the report, places humanity at risk of severe threats to livelihoods and human health and ecosystems, environmental degradation, and much more. This now raises the question of, “how do we manage this critical resource sustainably?”. Whilst the report may be sobering, it is encouraging to know that the problem can be solved to curb the risk to overall socio-economic development.
Understanding Water Stewardship and the Role of Corporations
The United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) describes Water Stewardship as using water in a manner that is socially equitable, environmentally sustainable, and economically beneficial. Furthermore, UNIDO also declared that water use efficiency must increase radically in order to achieve Inclusive and Sustainable Industrial Development. This would require collaborative efforts by every inhabitant of planet earth, particularly industries, corporate organizations, and individuals.
“Driving water stewardship requires collaborative efforts”, says Ekuma Eze, Corporate Affairs and Sustainability Director at the Nigerian Bottling Company (NBC) Ltd.
“In 2018, we announced our thoughtfully articulated Mission 2025 Commitments, with a key focus on elevating water stewardship and governance throughout our value chain. As a consumer packed goods company, we recognize water as a major ingredient in our brand portfolio, and a critical resource for the communities in which we operate.”
Long before ‘water stewardship’ became a buzzword in Nigerian corporate boardrooms and strategy sessions, the Coca-Cola System in Nigeria, comprising of Nigerian Bottling Company Ltd. and Coca-Cola Nigeria Limited, has been working assiduously to better understand its water risks and those of the communities in which it operates. To achieve this, the System had led Source Vulnerability Assessments and developed innovative Source Water Protection Plans (SWPP) for all its sites.
As a clear water stewardship leader in the Nigerian manufacturing industry, the Nigerian Bottling Company has taken further steps to mainstream best practices and inspire innovation in the sector. In 2020, the beverage giant announced a private-sector partnership with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)’s Effective Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene Services (E-WASH) programme. The programme, implemented by RTI International, contributes to strengthening and expanding the delivery of safe drinking water in Nigeria’s cities.
The partnership, according to its Managing Director, Matthieu Seguin, is premised on Coca-Cola’s long-standing commitment to preserve water resources in a sustainable way.
Through the partnership, NBC is also committed to provide continuous coaching and capacity enhancement for executives, senior managers, and water professionals in State Water Boards, equipping them with relevant skills to optimize urban water facilities in Abia, Delta, Imo, Niger, Taraba, and Sokoto states.
“By sharing our management expertise, we can enable long-term change in Nigeria’s water management and service delivery by replicating our success for delivering these essential services in cities across the country,” added Mr Seguin.
These efforts have garnered critical acclaim from a broad spectrum of stakeholders. In 2019, NBC bagged the prestigious Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS) certification becoming the first African bottling plant to receive the award. Shortly afterwards in 2019, the NBC Ikeja plant became the first bottler in Africa to receive the AWS Gold certification, which essentially means that the plant has met the highest global benchmark for responsible water stewardship. Port-Harcourt and Asejire Plants also earned gold certifications the same year. While Benin, Challawa and Abuja Plants have achieved the Core certification, Owerri and Maiduguri Plant in Nigeria’s Northeast have bagged the gold certification respectively.
By receiving these globally acclaimed certifications, NBC re-affirmed its position as the undisputed leader in water stewardship across the African continent.
A measurable framework for community impact
Over the last seven decades of its operations in Nigeria, the Coca-Cola System has made water stewardship a driver of its sustainable manufacturing priorities. But more so, it has continued to implement initiatives that have impacted several communities across Nigeria. In 2010, the System launched the Replenish Africa Initiative (RAIN), which aims to provide access to clean drinking water for millions of Africans. Since then, Nigeria has been a major beneficiary of this programme which is being implemented under two platforms – the Water and Development Alliance (WADA), a strategic partnership between The Coca-Cola Company (TCCC) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) as well as the Safe Water for Africa (SWA) initiative in partnership with Water Health International; both platforms are implemented by Global Environment & Technology Fund (GETF).
Under WADA, which focuses on water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) facilities for underserved communities, life-transforming projects have been implemented in 9 communities in Kano and Enugu States comprising 28 new boreholes, 20 boreholes rehabilitated and 145 units of public latrines with handwashing facilities. In addition, there is an ongoing implementation of a $2 million WASH partnership with USAID in 44 communities across Cross River and Abia States.
Benjamin Okimbe, one of the beneficiaries in Ohana community of Cross River state, said, “My community has benefitted greatly from the borehole projects initiated almost ten years ago by the Coca-Cola System, and we are still benefitting. It has solved the problem of fetching water from the river and streams, and we are also able to save money as we no longer need to buy water. We can conveniently get clean water without looking too far. The proximity of the borehole to my house has also contributed to helping my children maintain better hygiene: it has indeed been a blessing!”
To ensure inclusion, the projects have been carefully spread across the country. In Kano State, the Coca-Cola System implemented the Challawa Clean Water Project. As Nigeria’s second largest city, Kano is the commercial centre of Northern Nigeria with a population of over 10 million people. However, its tropical arid climate has made ground water exploration a major challenge for communities as special techniques are required to drill the wells and riverbanks. This prompted NBC to lead a major water intervention to alleviate the pains of millions of residents, by securing water availability to local communities in the state in collaboration with the Kano State Water Board and local communities. The first phase of the project has seen the installation of High-density polythene (HDPE), a type of flexible plastic pipes used to replace ageing concrete or steel pipelines. The benefit of using HDPE thermoplastic is that it possesses a high level of impermeability and strong molecular bond which make it suitable for the high pressure required to transfer water from the river to the NBC production plant located in Challawa, where it is sanitized to drinking quality.
In the South East, the NBC also led the sensitization for cleanup of the Oginigba River situated in River State. The Company mobilized staff volunteers and residents in the community to participate in an intense cleanup exercise of the river. This is in addition to several cleanup campaigns held at various locations in the country, especially during commemorative days such as the World Cleanup Day and World Water Day to reiterate its commitment to sustainability.
From carbon footprints to water footprints
Whilst reducing carbon footprint in its manufacturing operations has strengthened the Coca-Cola System’s sustainability journey, water-use footprint is also coming into the mix. As part of efforts to strengthen sustainable manufacturing, NBC is zooming the lenses on water efficiency and conservation. The company’s approach is to reduce water consumption by about 20 per cent in water priority plants from 2017 to 2025, reuse it, recycle wastewater to the levels supporting aquatic life and replenish water by restoring it. Earlier in 2002, the company installed its first Effluent Treatment Plant (ETP) in its Benin Plant, long before improperly treated manufacturing wastewater became a regulatory concern in Nigeria. With the installation of ETPs across all its plants in the country, this ensures that the company’s manufacturing wastewater is fit for discharge back into the environment.
“For us, it is a huge honor to be able to chart the course of water stewardship for Nigeria, and by extension, the larger African supply chain,” said Seguin.
“Every year, we have continued to challenge ourselves to embrace innovations that support sustainable water use in our operations and how we support our communities to access safe and healthy water. We hope to see more collaboration in the years ahead to address key challenges around water.”
This year alone, about 3.6 billion people are unable to access adequate water, at least one month each year, according to 2021 State of Climate Services, a publication of the World Meteorological Organisation. And the World Bank has warned that an estimated 700 million people could be affected by drought at the turn of the century.
However, by prioritizing water security, efficient use, and conservation, as seen in the Coca-Cola System’s model, organizations, governments, and communities can make a difference together. If anything, the Coca-Cola System has demonstrated that the earth is ours to plough; that water is the earth’s ultimate resource, and we have a duty to make every drop count.
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