Canadians know that freshwater is an important resource, though a lot of basic water quality information remains inaccessible. Elizabeth Hendriks, Vice President of the Freshwater Program at World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Canada, and her team are working to change this.

“Even in some of Canada’s most densely populated and highly developed watersheds, such as the Great Lakes, we don’t know the health of the waters that underpin our wellbeing and our economies,” says Hendriks. “That’s why organizations like the WWF work diligently to protect this precious resource.”

To do this work effectively, it’s important for WWF-Canada to work with partner organizations, including corporations. Coca-Cola has been a WWF-Canada partner since 2007.

“The problems [with freshwater] are too big and complex for one group or set of individuals to tackle themselves,” says Hendriks. “This complexity requires different perspectives and expertise.”

Organizations like WWF-Canada work with a variety of stakeholders to develop solutions to tough conservation problems. Corporations like Coca-Cola bring the business perspective to the partnership, opportunities to scale up projects, and through their leadership signal the critical responsibility companies have in freshwater protection.

Freshwater management affects us all

Though the partnership between WWF-Canada and Coca-Cola was initially born out of a joint campaign to support polar bears and arctic habitats, in recent years they’ve focused their efforts on freshwater conservation. According to Jon Radtke, Water Sustainability Program Director at Coca-Cola North America, the reason for this focus is obvious.

“We rely on clean, fresh, sustainable water sources to make most of our products,” says Radtke. “Therefore we need to ensure that water is being managed in an effective and sustainable way.”

Freshwater management and preservation aren’t only important for a beverage producer like Coca-Cola. All companies, large and small, are affected by the abundance and health of freshwater supplies. Whether this is through an agricultural supply chain, manufacturing processes, or the health and sustainability of the communities where they do business, freshwater plays a role in every company’s operations.

With growing demand for food and energy, urbanization, and climate change affecting freshwater supplies, it is essential that everyone — companies included — forge a new relationship with water.

Water neutrality and restoration

One way companies can forge this relationship is by identifying ways to neutralize water use.

In 2007, Coca-Cola announced that globally they would replenish 100 percent of the water they use in their finished beverages and production by 2020.

In 2015, Coca-Cola reached this goal, becoming the first Fortune 500 company to achieve water neutrality.

“Maintaining 100 percent replenishment globally is something our company is focused on,” says Radtke. He notes that their recent success hasn’t caused Coca-Cola to slow down their efforts.

Coca-Cola maintains this replenishment ratio through actions taken at facilities such as improving water use efficiency and through community water replenishment programs, such as watershed restoration.

One joint restoration project with WWF-Canada was the St. Eugène Marsh project in Quebec. Restoration efforts focused on preventing the marsh from drying out, which helps water flow and fish movement, and revitalizing the aquatic life that inhabits the marsh.

“It’s not just about moving forward,” Hendriks says of the freshwater sustainability efforts. “It is also restoring what has been lost.”

Freshwater conservation and management aren’t merely an environmental initiative, but critical issues that affect corporate decision making and day-to-day operations.