PepsiCo’s New Conservation Projects Help Mitigate Water Risk in Southwest

by | Mar 20, 2018

PepsiCo has taken a major step toward its water conservation goal with new projects in the Southwestern US, the company announced today. The projects, in collaboration with The Nature Conservancy, bring together farmers and other key stakeholders to address and manage watersheds in high-risk areas. With such projects, the company is actively facing risks related to climate change.

PepsiCo announced its goal to conserve and replenish all the water that it consumes in certain manufacturing operations – that is, those located in high water-risk areas – to the same watershed from which it is taken back in 2016. Its collaboration with The Nature Conservancy – the heart of Pepsi’s strategy for achieving this goal by 2025, the company says – focuses this year on a handful of new initiatives in the Salt and Verde watershed in Arizona.


Agriculture Shift Leads to Conservation

One project will help Hauser Farms switch from cultivation of alfalfa to barley, a crop that utilizes water primarily when the river’s level is naturally at its highest, and limits water withdrawal during dry months. As part of this project, The Nature Conservancy and partners are also announcing the opening of Arizona’s first malt house, which aims to help producers improve revenue from barley, making it a more financially viable alternative crop and helping to encourage other farmers to make similar crop changes.

This is an extension of a previous project with Hauser Farms that helped the farm switch from flood irrigation to a more efficient drip irrigation technique, keeping more water in the Verde River. PepsiCo, in collaboration with The Salt and Verde Alliance – a group of communities, corporations, farmers, and other organizations with an interest in the Salt and Verde watershed – enabled 110 million gallons of water to be replenished in the Verde River valley.

Hauser Farms is the largest multi-generational farm in the area.

Alongside the extension of PepsiCo and The Nature Conservancy’s work in Arizona, additional new projects are expected to help PepsiCo progress towards its goal include:

  • The planned acquisition by The Nature Conservancy, supported by PepsiCo, of land and water rights on the Price River, Utah. This will allow for the implementation of innovative measures to protect local water flows and ecosystems. The project is expected to enhance water flows in both the Price and Green rivers, benefitting drinking water sources, agricultural communities and endangered fish. This is a long-term project, intended to deliver over 200 million gallons of water benefits every year.
  • At Cibolo Bluffs, Texas, PepsiCo is supporting The Nature Conservancy’s management of a 5,000 acre preserve to safeguard an aquifer that provides water for almost two million Central Texans. This project also protects the habitat for the largest population of bats in the world – 20 million Mexican free-tailed bats.

These and other projects are “a model for how high risk watersheds around the world can be sustainably managed,” says PepsiCo’s VP of global sustainability, Roberta Barbieri.

Water management is an important aspect of climate change preparedness, an important element for environmental managers to face in coming months and years.


Proactively Facing Water Risk 

PepsiCo’s water management goals could be a sign that the company takes climate-preparedness seriously. For example, PepsiCo’s Tropicana production facility in Fort Pierce, Fla., faces plentiful torrential storms. In 2014, Tropicana engineers began using the frequent downpours to their advantage with a storm water-recycling project. The facility began using storm water instead of municipal water in the plant’s evaporative condensers, which remove heat by evaporating water. The project’s goal was to decrease the amount of municipal water used in the plant’s yearly operations by a little less than 20% with estimated yearly municipal water savings ranging from approximately 20 to 30 million gallons total.

At the facility, storm water is captured and stored in a 10-acre pond. Before the storm water-recycling project, excess rainwater flowed out of the pond through a weir and into the Atlantic Ocean.


Water and Other Risks Not Yet Fully Understood or Faced

But many companies are not yet facing climate change risk head-on, according to CDP and the Climate Disclosure Standards Board (CDSB). A new report indicates that a giant gap persists in the way companies around the world identify climate-related risks and opportunities, and how they are actually preparing to tackle them.

“Although most businesses go through the process of identifying climate-related risks and opportunities, they may not immediately understand the implications of these, how they impact their business performance and value creation,” Simon Messenger, CDSB managing director, told Environmental Leader recently. “Therefore, some risks remain unmanaged and opportunities untapped.”

The reason for the gap? “…[It] is often that these risks and opportunities are not well understood,” Messenger told us. “The connection between climate change and its potential implications on a business are not always seen by management and, as a result, they are often not deemed as material.”

Still, change is in the air. Companies have publicly announced plans to implement preparedness initiatives, and investors are more vocal than ever before about the need for more robust climate change-related information, according to Messenger. “The shift in perspective from simple data to describing impacts is very promising. This not only helps management make better informed decisions, but it also makes a clear case for investment in sustainable business models.”

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