Why are we letting chocolate firm bosses lecture the world on water management?

Jacob Tompkins_WaterwiseWe are delighted at PIF that Jacob Tompkins, Managing Director of Waterwise has agreed to guest blog. You may remember a couple of months ago, PIF shared with you the new initiative on water stewardship, in response Jacob offers his opinion on what large companies such as Nestle and Coke are saying and the reality of their plans.

The involvement of big business in water stewardship is to be welcomed and NGOs like WWF have done a great job in engaging and harnessing business to promote water management. At last big companies like Coke and Nestle are taking their environmental impacts on the aquatic environment seriously. But after years of campaigning have we let these prodigal sons back in too quickly?

There are a lot of warm words about commitment and stewardship and leadership, lots of back slapping in the UN CEO Water Mandate, but what are these firms actually doing? There are some improvements in process and a lot of forcing the supply chain to do stuff, but both of these are cost neutral or cost beneficial for the companies. It’s great that they are doing these things but why should they be feted for carrying out what should be good practice anyway, why should we be amazed that companies want to optimise production and use resources efficiently.

You don’t have to be a large global firm to save water

 
Waterwise run the UK water efficiency awards jointly with the EA and one of my favourite winners was a small hair salon in Glasgow, who did a huge amount on their own without outside assistance because it was the right thing to do and in the end it made them money and won them prizes and acclaim, and they are the opposite of many big corporations who have had strategy meetings about the prizes and the money before doing the hard graft.

Waterwise awards

My thoughts on global businesses take on Water stewardship

 
On the basis that they are now starting to act responsibly and efficiently these big companies and their executives are being given global platforms to pontificate on water issues. Waterwise works with some big corporations and we are happy that they are involved in water and are happy when companies like P&G or Unilever talk about what they are doing and promote stewardship in their sector and beyond. But companies like Nestle have gone beyond this and their Chair makes statements warning world leaders that water scarcity is more pressing than climate change, or that water must have a value to prevent irresponsible use. You may think this is a good thing that a powerful business leader is speaking up for water. You may think that hydrologists like me are just jealous that people will listen to a chocolate selling economist rather than people who spent years studying water systems. Or you may think that this is a green NGO anti-business rant. All of which are possibly true, but the main thing that annoys me is the hypocrisy.

bottled water image

Nestle does not pay the true value for groundwater it abstracts, Nestle adds to water scarcity, Nestle bottles water in areas of drought for profit. Before lecturing the world companies like Nestle and Coke should look at their own business models. And don’t mean in a superficial way, but fundamentally. As well as considering plant efficiency they should consider why they abstract and bottle groundwater in drought stricken California or why they bottle tap water for resale in the UK. How can businesses who mass produce bottled water and ship it around the world lecture us on water when this element of their business is fundamentally unsustainable? If they meant the words they spoke and wrote then they would shift to a model of water refilling stations, but they don’t and won’t as they want to have the cake of praise on the global stage, whilst eating the same cake in terms of global profit from exploiting the worlds water resources.

Water stewardship and partnership with businesses? Yes.

Fawning and allowing hypocrites to lecture us on water? No.


Do you have any thoughts on this blog and Jacob’s thoughts? Do you have any views on the Water Stewardship programme?

Jacob Tompkins

Jacob is the Managing Director of Waterwise, the water efficiency NGO. Studying Civil Engineering at UCL and Hydrology at Imperial, he has worked for the National Farmers' Union and Water UK.

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