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World water supplies: leading the search for solutions

8 September 2010

This week is World Water Week, an annual event in which the scientific, business, policy and civic sectors get together in Stockholm to address the planet's most urgent water-related problems.

And urgent is the word.  According to the UN, almost half the world's population will live in areas of high water stress by 2030 as a result of climate change.  The 2030 Water Resources Group (of which we're a member along with McKinsey, Coca-Cola and others) has estimated that by the same year the average global water supply will fall short of demand by 40%. 

Long-term access to affordable, high quality water is critical to our own business.  We also know that finding solutions requires innovative thinking, strong leadership and effective partnerships.  And because water scarcity tends to be felt locally, it's usually best tackled by alliances of local stakeholders.

It's against this background that we formed the Water Futures partnership in November 2009 with WWF and the German development agency, GTZ.   To mark this year's Water Week, the partnership has just published a report on progress so far.  Also called Water Futures, the report describes our collaboration in Peru, Tanzania, Ukraine and South Africa where we've carried out detailed water footprinting exercises to gain a better understanding of the risks and bring together local stakeholders to develop solutions.

Recognising that water is likely to be a contentious topic in years to come, we see Water Futures as part of a wider strategy of identifying tomorrow's big issues, getting together with high-level partners and finding answers for the mutual benefit of our businesses and the communities in which we operate. 

In a world of scarce resources, it's clear that business must be part of the solution.

Download a copy of the Water Futures report PDF

  • Patrick Eastwood on 14 September 2010 at 14:30:40

    I might be wrong in this view, but whilst resource efficiency in relation to energy and waste is prominent in the public’s mind (from the UK anyway), water has so far escaped attention beyond NGOs and the most concerned consumers. Often people don’t see water as a commodity at all. It is seen as free and plentiful. World Water Week and Water Futures are fantastic initiatives and all credit to SABMiller for putting their name behind this but how do we bring this issue to life for people in a way that is engaging and not preaching?

    Reply from Sue Clark, Corporate Affairs Director, SABMiller plc
    on 17 September 2010 at 14:29:00

    Thanks for your comment Patrick, that’s a really good point. Consumers have a very important role in driving change and so, to raise their awareness and mobilise consumer influence, we need to provide accurate and meaningful information.

    While water footprinting is an excellent tool for prompting discussion and informing business decisions, it simply doesn't work as a label on products - it's currently too complex and there is a vast amount of detail behind the numbers.

    However, we are looking for other ways of engaging with consumers. For example, in the United States MillerCoors, our joint venture, is playing a role in the Sustainability Consortium, initiated by Wal-Mart. This is seeking to tackle the challenge of meaningful measurement and consumer understanding. Meanwhile in Russia, our brands are raising awareness and money to provide freshwater springs to communities where current sources are under threat.

    Corporately, we’ve tried to bring the issue to life and show the work we're doing through case studies and videos on this website.

    So we're doing some ground work so that we understand the issues fully, but when it comes to communicating them to consumers, there's still a lot to do.

    We're keen to hear any ideas you, and others, may have.

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