By Karin Rives
Karin Rives is a staff writer covering environmental issues for the State Department’s Bureau of International Information Programs.
Joe Rozza remembers the blank stares he received from his Florida secondary-school friends in the early 1980s when he proposed a plan for protecting the state’s fragile lakes and streams.
Storm-water runoff? Polluted water?
Much has changed since then. Today, Rozza travels the world on behalf of the Coca-Cola Company to oversee water and wastewater management projects initiated by the Water and Development Alliance (WADA) — a partnership between his employer and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). He is the company’s global water resource sustainability manager.
Everywhere he goes these days, people are aware of the issue. Access to clean water has become a growing priority for countries everywhere as populations increase and climate change threatens water supplies. This is particularly true in Central America, which is becoming increasingly vulnerable to climate change-related hurricanes and droughts, according to the United Nations. In 2009, several countries in the region declared a state of emergency because of lingering droughts that threatened crops and freshwater supplies. The likelihood of more frequent and prolonged droughts in the future makes water monitoring and conservation a priority for the region. About 80 percent of Central America’s fresh water is consumed by agricultural operations — a percentage that the region cannot afford as droughts make water increasingly scarce.
PARTNERSHIP FOR WATER CONSERVATION
Water is also important to huge corporations, including Coca-Cola, whose business depends on steady access to clean water and sugarcane and on economically healthy communities that can purchase its products.
“Ultimately, improving [environmental] sustainability and economic development opportunities in the developing world will create business opportunities not only for Coca-Cola Company, but also for many other businesses,” said Rozza.
By partnering on water issues, he said, Coca-Cola and USAID have been able to pool their resources and expertise for a better outcome. In El Salvador and Guatemala the alliance is working with sugar refineries and local governments to improve water and wastewater management practices. The $362,000 project, which began in 2009, is similar to other WADA projects undertaken in recent years in Australia, Brazil, China and South Africa.
The partners have hired the nonprofit Global Environment & Technology Foundation (GETF) to work with sugar mills in the two countries to make sure they comply with environmental sustainability commitments spelled out under a free-trade agreement between the United States, the Dominican Republic and five Central American countries. The plan is to replicate the WADA program in countries covered by the agreement.
SUGAR INDUSTRY AND NEW STANDARDS
GETF conducts audits of sugar refineries, recommends changes designed to improve their performance and helps managers implement better practices. In many cases, the changes they make — such as installing better machines — immediately help the factories save money on energy and water. That has helped the alliance sell the idea to other companies and to overcome resistance to sometimes-expensive capital investments, according to GETF.
By March 2011, four refineries — all of them Coca-Cola suppliers — were part of the program, with more companies expected to join. WADA is pushing the suppliers to measure their performance against voluntary production standards, such as the Bonsucro: Better Sugar Cane Initiative, launched in 2010 to lessen the sugar-cane industry’s impact on the environment.
Coca-Cola’s Rozza is glad he can leverage his company’s brand in the area of corporate responsibility.
“The programs we’re involved with, like WADA, are resulting in real change for the better,” he said.