Soft Drink Companies Tout Water Practices, But Many Remain Skeptical

Last Updated Jan 22, 2008 5:53 PM EST

Soft Drink Companies Tout Water Practices, But Many Remain SkepticalThe World Economic Forum is set to kick off tomorrow in Davos, Switzerland. Top of the agenda: the looming shortage of fresh water. Pepsi Co's Chairman and CEO, Indra Nooyi, is co-chair of this year's meeting, and both her company and its soft drink rival, Coca Cola, have been out to prove their commitment to the cause of clean water in advance of Davos. The Wall Street Journal is covering the meeting on its new The Daily Davos blog:
In its latest move, PepsiCo said it's giving $8.5 million to Columbia University's Earth Institute and actor Matt Damon's H2O Africa Foundation to provide clean water to communities in Africa, India, China, and Brazil.... Coke and its bottlers have launched 120 projects in 50 countries over the past couple of years, Coke says.
Recent reports have highlighted the need for companies to develop water strategies to mitigate risks (whether from too much water or too little). Corporations are heeding these calls for better water management and other investments in the general well-being of the community. Last week, the Economist reported a survey that found "corporate responsibility rising sharply in global executives' priorities." However, despite all this high-profile corporate do-gooding, concerns remain.

A water strategy should be not simply ward off the wrath of activists and concerned customers, but, like other corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives, presents opportunities for companies to develop long-term strategic and competitive advantages. By this measure, though, the Economist sees CSR measures as falling short:

"Doing well by doing good" has become a fashionable mantra. Businesses have eagerly adopted the jargon of "embedding" CSR in the core of their operations, making it "part of the corporate DNA" so that it influences decisions across the company. With a few interesting exceptions, the rhetoric falls well short of the reality. "It doesn't go very deep yet," says Bradley Googins, executive director of the Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship.... Despite a surge of interest in CSR, in most cases it remains "too unfocused, too shotgun, too many supporting someone's pet project with no real connection to the business."
(Image of water drop by by Snap®, CC 2.0)
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    Jessica lives in London where she works as a freelance writer with interests in green business and tech, management, and marketing.