One would never suspect that a beverage company would take an active interest in preserving natural habitat. But that’s the case for the Dr Pepper Snapple Group.
In West Columbia, Texas, there’s a sprawling field of waist-high grass, buzzing bees and palm-size butterflies. And the entire area is big enough to house more than 300 football fields. Some observers say it looks ripe to be plucked by investors and entrepreneurs … that it’s just waiting to be razed. But instead of developing this pure remnant of coastal prairie, the Dr Pepper Snapple Group is investing hundreds of thousands of dollars to ensure it remains untouched.
The project is part of the company’s $1.1 million investment in the Nature Conservancy, which is designed to benefit five Texas watersheds from which its bottling plants draw water. The money will ultimately go toward preservation work. This will include projects like reseeding the grass, to restore and expand an ecosystem that once covered 6 million acres from southwestern Louisiana through Texas.
The projects will improve water quality and quantity by preserving the prairies’ sponge-like characteristics. But for Dr Pepper and other beverage companies engaged in similar work, the catalyst is their bottom line. Conserving water guarantees long-term access to the most crucial ingredient in their products.
Laura Huffman is state director of the Nature Conservancy in Texas. She’s been quoted as saying: “If there’s no fresh water, there’s no business. It’s just that simple. It is their number one infrastructure concern. Water tops the list, above roads, above energy, above all else, because if you don’t get water right, you’re not making anything.”
Sustainable water isn’t just a concern for Dr Pepper. The biggest players, from Coca-Cola and Pepsi Co. to Miller and MolsonCoors, all list water as a risk in long-term plans.
In 2006, 18 companies created an alliance called the Beverage Industry Environmental Roundtable. Its mission is to tackle water, energy and other issues that could affect the industry’s growth. There is no total available for how much has been invested in water conservation projects in the past five years. But experts believe it’s more than $500 million dollars.
Thomas Lyon is a professor at the University of Michigan. He researches connections between industry and the environment. Lyon says three factors have pushed beverage companies to conserve water: future markets in developing countries don’t drink enough soft drinks, from their perspective; the impacts of climate change are starting to become more apparent; and some of the countries targeted for growth are the same ones experts believe will be most affected by climate change.
It was about a decade ago when advance planning started to highlight water constraints. That’s when many companies streamlined processes and installed new, more efficient technologies within factories and plants. This helped conserve millions of gallons of water and millions of dollars.
About five years ago, the corporations began partnering with environmental groups. They used corporate funds to pay for projects to bring water to people in developing countries, such as India, China and Africa. That’s where water is most scarce and infrastructure is often deficient.
Campaigners say the partnerships help everyone. Environmental groups receive much sought-after funding; cash-strapped governments tackle projects they once couldn’t afford; and beverage companies can market themselves as “green” by conserving the most crucial, finite resource on Earth.