When we look at the beverage industry, it consumes a lot of water, about 1,500 billion litre of water every year, which is about 20% of the annual human drinking water consumption. Analysis of the water footprint of the top 20 beverage companies suggests that more than 45% of the water is sourced from groundwater in these companies.
Groundwater is non-renewable and in most parts of the world has been continuously declining, the localised factories of the beverage industry put a lot of pressure on the ground table. Several protests and agitation is building up against these beverage companies, all around the world.
One such protest was seen in Kerala – the Plachimada Coca-Cola struggle, where one of the Coca-Cola factories was shut because of the water scarcity that was caused by excess groundwater consumption. Such beverage industries are not only the root cause of groundwater depletion but also cause soil contamination, making it unfit for cultivation. Hence, if the beverage industries do not take steps towards sustainability immediately, it will take a toll on the environment and the local communities.
There are several beverage brands that are trying to step up their sustainability game by taking a number of viable measures. Three of the main components of any beverage industry are water, packaging, and electricity. AB InBev, which is the largest beer company in the world has set its foot in the sustainability sector by taking up an initiative of using 100% renewable electricity in the production of their beer. Efforts have also been made to reduce water wastage by using better techniques and efficient solutions like smart controls, water monitoring, and so on. Some companies have also gone to the extent of treating their wastewater to potable quality and reusing it for processes like cleaning and hygiene. Many celebrities like Will Smith, Gwyneth Paltrow, have jazzed up the beverage industry by introducing water bottles with paper-packaging and Liquid Death introduced metal cans and imbibed sustainability. But, is that enough? What about the water inside these cans? More than 90% of the content in most of the beverages is water!
Can water also be renewed? If yes, then from where? The answer is air! Yes, you read that right, it’s air. Air is one such source that has 6 times the water than all the world’s rivers combined. And moisture in the air replenishes naturally in just 8-10 days. When this inexhaustible moisture in the air is harnessed using only renewable energy, we can call that water 100% renewable. Although Atmospheric Water Generators (AWGs) use moisture in the air to generate water, the conventional technology uses an air-conditioning effect to cool the air and liquify a fraction of the moisture present. This utilises immense amounts of electricity and also propagates carbon emissions, making this technology non-renewable. To overcome this problem, desiccant-based technology can be used which only requires heat energy as input. This heat can be sourced renewably from various sources like solar, industrial waste heat as well as biomass. So, the water produced can be made 100% renewable.
Beverage industries are also keenly looking at Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and need to innovate, to cater to the criteria laid out by the SDGs 3 (good health and well-being), 6 (clean water and sanitation), 9 (Industry, innovation and infrastructure), and 12 (responsible consumption and production) that are relevant to the beverage industries. Since going sustainable is the need of the hour, with renewable water the beverage industries will take their sustainability to the next level.
Nowadays, consumers are also quite mindful of the things they consume. Given that the sustainable and viable options have become the latest trends, this step will also help the beverage industries with their brand image. Due to the socio-economic issues, beverage industries are also looking for alternatives to reduce their dependence on ground water and also opt for less energy-intensive solutions to mitigate their carbon footprint.
The Coca-Cola incident that we spoke about in the above section, could have saved on the compensation amount of about US$30 million for the usage of over 1 million litre of groundwater per day by shifting to 100% renewable water. This would have also prevented shutting down of the plant and helped create a better brand image. Beverage industry can invest in promising solutions like 100% renewable water to tackle environmental and economic sustainability and truly deliver meaningful impact to all stakeholders.