Lake Mead on the endangered Colorado River. Image credit: iStock

Why the ‘net water positive’ goal matters for major agribusiness corporates

March 23, 2022

Water is seen by many as the next target for net-zero pledges by major corporations, and with good reason. Scientists predict that global demand for water will more than double supply by 2030, while the UN Environment Program (UNEP) estimates a 40% shortfall in freshwater resources by 2030.

Water scarcity  which is as much about over-allocation of resources as it is about lack of rainfall — could seriously disrupt food supply chains in the future and cost companies hundreds of billions of dollars, to say nothing of the humanitarian issues surrounding water. In her World Water Day message this week, UNEP executive director Inger Andersen wasn’t exaggerating when she stated the global water challenge “is one of epic proportions,” and that the world needs to address over-exploitation of water resources and our ability to monitor the use of those resources.

In agrifood, more and more corporations are responding to the situation with pledges to go “net water positive.” There’s as yet no official definition for the term, though generally speaking it refers to companies putting more water back into geographic areas than they remove. For example, PepsiCo. just announced new initiatives to replenish 50% of the water used at its potato chip manufacturing facilities, with the goal of replenishing 100% by 2030.

Pepsi appears to be the only major food and beverage company pledging the full net water positive commitment, though Facebook, Ikea, and some oil and gas companies have also done so. Other food and beverage companies have pledged to reduce and/or restore varying percentages of water over the next several years.

The following list of corporate water commitments is a start, but there are many steps between making a pledge and executing on it fully, and we should see more action from more companies in the future — and be ready to hold them accountable.

This list is unlikely exhaustive. We welcome suggestions of agrifood corporate climate commitments we may have missed or not yet heard about. Send me a note here.

Company Commitment Overview First Announced
ADM  By 2035: Reduce water intensity by 10 percent  2020
Cargill  By 2030: restore 600 billion liters in priority watersheds  2020
Diageo  By 2030: 30% improvement in water use efficiency globally; 40% in water stressed areas  2020
Generall Mills  By 2025: Champion “water stewardship plans” for the company’s most at-risk watersheds  2016
Hormel  2 percent reduction in water use; achieve annual efficiency gains of 1 percent in energy and water use  2021
Kellogg  By 2030: 30% reduction in water use in facilities in high-water-stress regions  2019
Pepsi  By 2030: Net water positive  2021
Starbucks  By 2030: cut water usage in coffee processing by 50%  2021

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