- Coca-Cola's chief sustainability officer Bea Perez outlined the company's upcoming plans for improved sustainability at a recent Fortune event. This included pilot initiatives to reduce water use by 30% in those test areas, but she also posited the potential for wastewater being used throughout the business.
- "Water is the most circular resource we have," said Perez. "...How do you look at technology where you can reuse the water in every aspect of your production? ... Water is water, and if you clean it, it should be used again."
- "We found there's an appetite for, and we found some consumers who are willing to pay the price, to live a more sustainable lifestyle, so luxury and sustainability can go hand in hand," said Perez.
Perez was hesitant in her Fortune interview to use the term "wastewater," and for good reason. Beyond industry players, wastewater may seem undesirable as a product or ingredient.
Consumers may say they would be willing to pay more for sustainable products, but don't always follow through, Perez said. In the same way, manufacturers need to gage whether consumers will actually drink a wastewater product, even if they claim they would.
"We also have to follow the consumer and what they tell us how far they're willing to go, while we push the edges on technology and push the dialogue," she said.
It's one thing for smaller startups to find ways to transform wastewater from production into premium drinking water or bioplastic beverage packaging. But when a manufacturer as large as Coca-Cola says it will use wastewater in products consumers drink, the company has to tread lightly with a concept so foreign to the general public.
Before Coca-Cola or any other company can convince the masses to drink wastewater as a move toward greater sustainability, major marketing initiatives will need to explain the process of extracting and filtering the wastewater. Purified or otherwise reused wastewater could become a viable income stream or cost saver for Coca-Cola and other manufacturers.
Sustainability does motivate consumers, as Unilever proved last year. In the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan annual progress report, the company announced that half of Unilever's growth last year was derived from its portfolio of sustainable living brands, which grew at a pace 30% faster than the company's other brands.