By John Kalkowski, editor in chief, Food Online
In parched California, Nestlé USA is undertaking numerous measures to conserve water in its food and beverage operations across that state. Four years into a significant drought in the nation’s most populous state, California government officials recently began initiating mandatory controls on water usage for businesses, farms, and residents. Nestlé is hoping to stay ahead of these developments and allay pressure from environmental groups that criticize increasing use of bottled water, one of the company’s major product lines.
“Like all Californians, we share concerns about the effects this devastating drought is having,” Jane Lazgin, Nestlé director of corporate affairs, tells Food Online. “As complex issues go, there is no single solution to the water challenges we collectively face in California or around the world. Right now, we are focused on improving our production efficiency.”
Nestlé is always looking at conservation in energy savings, packaging, and other fronts, says Tim Brown, president and CEO of Nestlé Waters North America, adding that “the drought in California pushed water conservation to the top of the list.”
Water Savings At All California Plants
The effort focuses on the water plants — which includes those operating in Los Angeles, Ontario, and Cabazon — as well as ice cream plants in Bakersfield and Tulare and a milk processing plant in Modesto.
Some of the actions Nestlé has already initiated include:
• Work is underway in Modesto to transform Nestlé USA’s milk factory into a “zero water” factory, meaning the plant will not use any groundwater at all for its operations. The project is expected save nearly 63 million gallons of water each year.
• Nestlé invested $2.5 million in its bottled water plants to recover and reuse much of the process water across its California operations, saving an estimated 28 million gallons per year since 2011.
• Nestlé food factories in the state have also reduced water usage by 70 million gallons per year through a variety of operational improvements, changes to irrigation practices, and implementation of more water-efficient cleaning processes.
• At Nestlé Purina’s Maricopa litter facility, a water reduction project was installed in 2010, reducing the water withdrawal rate at the site by nearly 40 percent, or 8 million gallons per year.
More Savings Projected With Planned Investments
Lazgin says Nestlé has plans to bring new technologies and practices to California that will save an additional 144 million gallons of water a year, including projected savings of 55 million gallons at its bottled water operations compared to 2014.
To put the situation in perspective, Californians use about 13 trillion gallons of water each year. Nestlé says it uses less than 1 billion gallons in all of its operations across the state, including five bottled water plants and four food plants, or about 0.008 percent of the state’s total usage.
In a recent online Q&A document, Nestlé Corporate Affairs says: “Closing our operations or reducing the amount of water we withdraw won’t fix the drought. If Nestlé were to shut down all of its plants in California the resulting annual savings would be less than 0.3 percent of the total the governor says the state needs residential and public users to save.” The company also points out that it employs more than 7,000 people in the state.
Lazgin adds that 80 percent of the water the company bottles in California is sold and consumed within the state, adding that the company is not considering transferring production outside the state. “Keep in mind that beverages consumed in California but not bottled in the state must be shipped a longer distance, which has its own drawbacks, such as the environmental impact of transportation. Sourcing water in California provides water with a lower carbon footprint, which has a beneficial environmental impact.”
More Consumers Turning To Bottled Water
Bottled water consumption continues to grow, with the International Bottled Water Association estimating a 7.4 percent increase in 2014 alone. By 2016, bottled water is predicted to be the No. 1 packaged beverage sold in the United States. “People want to make healthier choices, and bottled water is one of the few packaged beverages with no calories, sugar, or sweeteners,” Lazgin says.
Nestlé’s water conservation effort will focus on two areas: reduction of the amount of water used through the filtration process and by reducing the water used in maintaining the hygiene of the water processing plant. In some cases it may be a matter of buying a new piece of equipment, or it may mean the purchase of “a new washer or filter,” Brown was quoted as saying.
One conservation method Nestlé uses involves the extraction of water from its dairy operations. The milk is processed in an evaporator, and the water vapor is condensed and cleaned for reuse.
Lazgin points out that the majority of the savings will come from recycling the water within the plants’ systems. That water that is recaptured from the manufacturing is cleaned and reused within the process, but is not sold as bottled water. The water used for bottled water comes from multiple sources, including municipal tap water or from the Arrowhead spring site in Strawberry Canyon within the San Bernardino National Forest.
Nestlé Draws On Global Resources
Water conservation is being gained incrementally through changes in technology and processes that result in relatively small savings that add up, Lazgin explains. The company has developed its own Water Target Setting methodology to review potential improvements, using a cross-functional team of internal and external experts who map all of the water streams and analyze them for the most appropriate technology.
Much of this technology already exists, she explains, and the company is attempting to apply it in innovative ways. “One of the keys is that Nestlé is a global company with operations throughout the world. Through use of networks and information sharing, we can keep our pulse on emerging technologies across the world.”
While it does not involve water conservation, Nestlé adds that it is improving the sustainability of the bottles it uses for water. Bottled water already has one of the lightest environmental footprints of any packaged beverage, Lazgin says. Since 1994, Nestlé has reduced the PET plastic content of its .5L water bottles by 60 percent, saving more than 3 billion pounds of plastic since 2003. Nestlé has .5L packaging with 100 percent recycling plastic (rPET) for its Resource brand; 50 percent rPET for its Arrowhead brand in California and Deer Park in the Baltimore/Washington, D.C. area. Reducing bottle weight also reduces the company’s greenhouse gas emissions.