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Rainwater Harvesting in India at Coke factories

It has been almost 17 years since the fast-food war was un-officially won by Pepsi in the US and Coke took refuge in the developing third world. Since that time, people living in the states have rivaled in a fun kind of way their preferred taste, but when you choose Taco Bell, and the only thing available are Pepsi products, you tend to give in to what is at hand.

In the developing nations such as Brazil and India, Coke has been the dominating element in their everyday lives for years, competing even with national brand names like Guaraná Antartica and Thumps up. India opened its international trade restrictions in the 90s while Brazil has felt the Coke presence since the early 70s. A scenario that repeats itself all across the globe in developing nations.

So why is it said that Coke exploits developing nations? That is an ethical question that needs to be held up by facts and then pondered by ones self. While it is true that Coke survived the 80s and 90s with their foreign manufactures and sales, it does not necessarily mean they redirect all their profit away from those people who built it.

In the last 40 years, Coke has been through a lot, and now, a new question arises, the question of rainwater harvesting and sustainability. Coke itself affirms on CokeFacts.org:

The Coca-Cola Company has a special interest in water: we are a hydration company. Every product we sell contains water. Without water, we have no business and it is in the long-term interest of our company to be good stewards of our most critical ingredient. We are committed to helping protect and preserve this resource in all the communities where we operate throughout the world.

Coke is discovering that the world is globalizing itself ever faster by the day, and Coke helped make this possible. In countries like Brazil where resources are so abundant that people in urban centers pollute and waste as a way of life. Coke prospered in accordance to local customs and did irreparable damage to the urban landscape without ever even noticing.

But in India, what worked in other countries, just doesn’t seem to work so well and Coke has learned from mistakes made in countries like Brazil. Where drinking water comes mainly from the underground reservoirs called bawari; Coke has made a serious effort to do right:

Working at the local level we have helped to restore centuries-old bawaris or community reservoirs that had fallen into disrepair. The projects have included active community involvement to remove silt, rubble and algae, and to rebuild the bawariâs traditional, sustainable infrastructure. The restored bawaris provide fresh water to thousands of families in surrounding communities, and have served as the focal point for community education campaigns around water conservation.

In the fight for dam reconstruction, Coke also made an effort that is on par with many non-governmental organizations:

In one of the driest parts of the State of Andrha Padesh, we have worked to reconstruct a dam and reclaim a water storage area that had been rendered useless by silt. Some 16,000 people live in the nearby village and had faced shortages of irrigation and drinking water. The new reservoir – built on a site that was scientifically selected based on its ability to gather and store water – can now hold enough water to irrigate 1000 acres of cropland.

Of course the most astonishing claim by Coke is their claim to how they intend to replenish their usage of such a precious resource through self-sustainable rainwater harvesting:

We have installed rainwater harvesting systems in 28 of our plants and in 10 communities. The collected water is used for plant functions, as well as for recharging aquifers. Today, more than one-third of the total water that we use in our operations is renewed and returned to groundwater systems. Work is underway to equip every one of our India bottling plants with rooftop rainwater harvesting capabilities, which will recycle millions of additional gallons of water each year.

Hopefully, Coke is on the path of righteousness. Making every single bottling plant in India have storm run off and roof harvesting capabilities is ambitious to say the least, but hopefully only the first step. Helping a country like India achieve completely sustainable water supply in the midst of drought is something that the government alone cannot do.

Part of the responsibility for any private company is to the citizens it is trying to benefit with a product or service, not just those working in the factory with dental and medical health care packages. But like any institution dealing in money, Coke has to attend the priorities of their investors, owners, employees and consumers. All that without going bankrupt is a very tricky business.

Protests in India and during the World Water Forum in Mexico are the kinds of things that make the problems Coke is facing all the more evident, according to one article:

The Coca-Cola bottling plant in Mehdiganj, which draws nearly 250,000 liters of water per day according to some estimates, has been the target of the community for nearly five years. Thousands of people have protested the plant in the past, including a major protest on November 24, 2004 in which the police resorted to violence and over 300 people were detained.

Obviously, the communities in India are in many respects unsatisfied with Coke’s efforts as in this passage of the same article:

Touting rainwater harvesting initiatives is central to Coca-Cola’s public relations strategy in India. Although Coca-Cola claims that rainwater harvesting returns a “substantial” part of their water use, when asked how much rainwater was harvested in Mehdiganj, Mr. Kalayan Ranjan of Coca-Cola announced that 7 million liters of water was harvested last year. Even taking a conservative figure of 250,000 liters of water per day that Coca-Cola extracts, the recharge figure given by the Coca-Cola company doesn’t even meet the company’s water needs in Mehdiganj for a month. “Coca-Cola’s claim of substantially returning the water they use through rainwater harvesting is plain hogwash,” said Amit Srivastava of the India Resource Center.

But the politics of business are an intricate web of relations and inter-relations, the fact that not every factory is self-sustainable “right now, this very minute does not mean they wont be as soon as possible.” But these are just what both sides seem to say about the issue.

On the one side, Indian protesters are passionate about the conservation of underground reservoirs and rightly so, while Coke’s rhetoric is just as passionate, but with a vision on the future and their financial priorities. The question to be asked then, is if Coke’s efforts to do the right thing for the people they make money off of, has been enough and if they are not only willing, but able to do more.

One thing is clear, if protesters win their fight to close the bottling plant in Mehdiganj and such protests continue on to other bottling plants, the losses for Coke’s investors will be severe.

Would India be better off without Coke’s help to develop the country? Can Coke make their claims for a sustainable rainwater harvesting system throughout all their bottling plants in India a possibility any time soon? Those are questions for a person to ask and answer on their own. The purpose of this article was only to demonstrate as impartially as possible two sides of the coin; the rest is up to you the reader. Let’s at the same time celebrate the positive steps Coke has taken to make good use of Rainwater Harvesting and it’s increasing support of local communities.




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Posted in India by Administrator on May 9, 2006.

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