By: Marjorie DePuy, Senior Director, Supply Chain and Sustainability, FMI

This pandemic has highlighted myriad intersecting global issues on a community level, first and foremost how critical access to water and sanitation is for life on this planet. (I thought I washed my hands often before, and it’s sobering when I remember how many people cannot access clean drinking water!)


And water is not just for safety and cleanliness. Water is foundational to our food system as well as to our world’s economy. According to McKinsey & Company’s recent article water is as important to the world’s economy as oil or data. 

  • Less than 1% of the world’s water is available to support human and ecological processes. 
  • Every year, we withdraw 4.3 trillion cubic meters of fresh water from the planet’s water basins. 
  • Agriculture accounts for 70% of the withdrawals, industry uses 19%, and households 11%.

By 2030 the global gap between water supply and demand could reach 40%, so although “clean water and sanitation” is #6 of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, we could easily make a case for this being #1. 

About the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

The ‘SDGs’ as they’re often called, are aspirational statements about the vision for what’s possible in the world. In addition to Clean Water and Sanitation, they include calls for No Poverty, Zero Hunger, Good Health and Well-being, Decent Work and Economic Growth, Responsible Consumption and Production plus 11 more. 

All of us in the food industry are playing a role already in these goals at a community, corporate and country-wide level. These are global goals that have the potential to unite us all in a common vision. We will disagree on the details of how to achieve these goals, but I hope we can be open to new ways of addressing some age-old challenges. A combination of fear from the realities we face and our optimism in humanity’s ingenuity will help us collaborate. We are seeing innovation everywhere, which must be fostered and financed. 

A few examples of commitment in practice from FMI members:

  • GENERAL MILLS’ focus on local water stewardship prioritizes at-risk watersheds in their supply chain, working towards development of multi-stakeholder plans and transformation for each. Their ambitious commitment to advancing regenerative agriculture across 1,000,000 acres of North American crop land by 2030 will enhance the ability of farmland to hold water and be resilient to drought, as well as improve water quality.
  • As part of NESTLE's strategy to enhance water stewardship, Nestlé Waters will support the environmental sustainability of watersheds by replenishing 100% of the water it uses. The company is already committed to certifying all of its water sites globally to the internationally respected Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS) standard. 
  • COCA-COLA promised to return 100% of the water they use to make their drinks. The company has met that goal and continues to regenerate more water than is used each year. So far, 1.5 trillion+ liters of water replenished. Coca-Cola returns clean water back to communities and nature from their business or local water initiatives. 
  • CARGILL’s global ambition is to achieve sustainable water management in all priority watersheds in operations and supply chains by 2030 by applying a context-based approach. Cargill’s science-based water targets include restoring 600 billion liters of water in priority watersheds and improving access to safe drinking water in 25 priority watersheds. 
  • WALMART works to advance water and land stewardship in the communities where they operate and upstream, in the value chains with suppliers, where they source products and food. Walmart’s strategy includes managing water in their operations and conserving and restoring natural habitats
  • KROGER achieved 5% water savings in supermarkets by 2020, using a 2015 baseline year, ahead of schedule and has a continued focus on their as yet unmet goal to achieve 3% annual reduction in water consumed per unit produced in their plants. 
Join the Discussion at the upcoming Water Unite/ United Nations Convening

FMI is exhibiting during this upcoming convening and members are invited to join on Thursday, September 3, 2020 at 11 a.m. EDT, with speakers from the United Nations Conference for Trade & Development and the United Nations Environment Programme. The agenda features insights on the challenges that are facing both retailers and the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH), Plastic and Water Stewardship sectors. The event is hosted by Water Unite, a partnership to end water poverty and reduce plastic pollution.

Register for Water Unite/United Nations Convening