PepsiCo's Vision: Improving Water Wherever It Operates

Source: Water Online

By Kevin Westerling,

David Grant

Everyone knows Pepsi — and even if you're not a soda drinker, you're familiar with PepsiCo brands such as Lay’s, Doritos, Gatorade, Quaker, and Aquafina, to name but a few. And if you're a manufacturer of any type, particularly within the food & beverage space, you know the importance of process water, as well as (hopefully) the potential impacts of industrial water use and treatment on water availability, the environment, and municipal operations. David Grant certainly knows, and is doing something about it.

As Senior Director of Global Climate and Water Solutions for PepsiCo, Grant oversees a program that actually improves water conditions, rather than simply mitigating PepsiCo's own impact or embracing sustainability merely for efficiency/business benefits. In this Q&A, Grant details PepsiCo’s philosophy on water stewardship, the elements of their ambitious water strategy, and the outcomes they hope to achieve.

Water scarcity has been top of mind for municipal water suppliers for some time now, due to their mandate to provide for the public. While corporations don't have the same requirements, water scarcity is an existential threat for them as well. How do you view PepsiCo's role in water stewardship?

Water scarcity is a serious global challenge that affects everyone; water is indispensable to every community, ecosystem, and economy around the world. As a food and beverage company, we are acutely aware of the critical role water plays in the food system, and we understand our opportunity to be good corporate water stewards. Our vision is that wherever in the world we operate, water resources will be in a better state because of our presence, so there is a strong impetus for us to deploy our expertise and resources to address this issue. A key part of our PepsiCo Positive (pep+) agenda — a strategic, end-to-end transformation of our business that embeds sustainability into everything we do — is our vision for net positive water impact.

What does that vision entail?

We have implemented a robust and ambitious strategy to help us work toward our vision of becoming net water positive by 2030. Our strategy includes a set of goals that span our operations, enhancing watershed management as part of our regenerative agriculture goals, and contributing to community water health by delivering safe water access to 100 million people. Our water-use efficiency goals and watershed replenishment goals not only cover our owned facilities, but also our third-party manufacturing facilities in high-water risk areas.

Some examples of the work we’re doing around the globe, guided by our strategy include:

  • Using innovative technologies and methods, our U.S. beverages and global quality team developed an approach to streamline the flavor changeover process in bottling plants. This new “burst rinsing” method cleans the tanks in 30-second spurts instead of continuously rinsing each tank for up to 30 minutes at a time. It’s equally effective for cleaning and has saved us millions of gallons of water a year. This method has been so successful that it’s being scaled across other PepsiCo sites.
  • By replacing invasive cane with riparian woodland that allows the biodiversity in the area to thrive, in 2022, we replenished 100% of the annual water usage of our Alvalle gazpacho plant in Spain to the Segura River — exceeding our goal to replenish the equivalent of the annual consumption of the gazpacho plant (or almost 70 million liters of water).
  • Developing a best-in-class technology at one of our snacks facilities in Kolkata, India has enabled us to capture the inherent water released from potatoes during the chip-cooking process and convert it to clean potable water that can be used to help run the facility. This reduces the amount of freshwater needed in our operations by 50%, which adds up to a savings of up to 60 million liters of water per year.

What role does water treatment play in responsible corporate water stewardship?

Water treatment plays an important role in responsible corporate water stewardship and identifying opportunities for treating process water within our own operations and those of our third-party manufacturers, particularly in high water-risk areas, is one method we use as we work to reduce our freshwater footprint and work towards a circular system.

Process water is a valuable resource that can be both treated and reused, as well as providing useful byproducts such as energy. For example, during the potato preparation process, water is used to rinse the potato slices to remove starch before being sent to the fryers. By recovering and treating this water, we can both recover the valuable starch and reuse the treated water back in the system. This has the ability to reduce the total amount of freshwater required for this process by up to 85%.

Water treatment can also support our efforts to reduce our greenhouse gas footprint. A number of PepsiCo facilities treat their process water onsite, and some of these incorporate a process where the organic matter generated by the treatment process is digested by microorganisms (anaerobic digester). This process in turn generates methane gas, which we are able to clean and use as a fuel source to replace natural gas.

PepsiCo's Water Stewardship Specialization course goes beyond what seems to be required. Tell us why it's an important initiative?

Everyone can take steps to become a better water steward, so it’s important to us to share our best practices and bring others along on our net positive water journey. This is one of the reasons we created a water stewardship learning program.

PepsiCo’s Water Stewardship Specialization program is a three-course series developed as an open-access, corporate water stewardship program hosted on the Coursera platform where stakeholders can study local and global water resources and develop a plan to advance water stewardship goals.

By making this program available to third-party manufacturers and bottlers throughout our value chain — in addition to anyone else who chooses to take the program — we hope we will be able to drive broader awareness for water stewardship, spread some of the best practices, tools, and solutions we’ve found effective, and encourage action to help have the greatest impact. For those who are interested, you can sign up here (for free) today: PepsiCo: Water Stewardship I Coursera.

Any final thoughts?

I would just want to stress how important good water stewardship is and how seriously we take our water ambitions at PepsiCo. Part of pep+ is our goal to be net water positive by 2030. PepsiCo is one of the first companies of our size to acknowledge water as a basic human right, and water stewardship has been a long-standing PepsiCo priority. We aim to achieve sustainable water security for our business, natural ecosystems, and the local communities that depend on accessible and reliable supply of safe, clean water. What we need to see now is more collaboration among governments, business, and NGOs so the most impactful solutions can be delivered at scale.  

Read more about the pep+ initiative here, and more on PepsiCo’s progress and efforts on water here and here.