Nestlé’s zero water program carries lessons for all industries

It may seem odd for the world’s largest bottled water company to spearhead a zero water initiative, but Tim Brown, President & CEO of Nestlé Waters North America (Stamford, CT) doesn’t see it that way. By virtue of its position in the bottled water pyramid, Nestlé has a keen awareness of the need for water conservation, and it wants to set an example that other industrial facilities can follow. Brown spoke about Nestlé’s zero water program during a keynote at the Advanced Design & Manufacturing Expo and Expoplast event in Montréal today.

Tim Brown, Nestle North America
Tim Brown, President & CEO of Nestlé Waters North America.

“Water scarcity is a global problem, one that is creating friction among populations,” said Brown. While water makes up almost three-quarters of the Earth’s surface, Brown noted that only 3% of it is fresh water. “And three-quarters of that is stored in glaciers, so really only about 1% of the water on earth is available for use by humans,” added Brown. When you consider that drought conditions are cropping up in various parts of the world and that water is life in a real and symbolic sense—Brown pointed to protesters in North Dakota opposing a pipeline that, they say, poses a threat to water resources—the need to conserve this natural resource becomes very real, indeed.

“We look at all waste in a holistic way, whether water, energy or solid waste,” Brown told PlasticsToday in an email interview prior to the event. “This is a priority for Nestlé. Globally, the company has reduced water use by 40% across operations over 10 years. At Nestlé Waters North America, we’ve reduced plastic packaging in our 0.5-liter PET non-sparkling bottles by 60% since 1994, have added rPET content to our bottles and advocated for improved recycling infrastructure.” In 2015, Nestlé Waters North America reduced direct water withdrawals per ton of product in every product category versus five years ago, adds Brown. “This water reduction parallels the work Nestlé is doing globally. All 447 Nestlé global factories combined withdrew 41% less water per ton of product than they did 10 years ago.” During the keynote speech, he described a recent milestone in the company’s zero water initiative.

Nestle opened its first zero water plant in Mexico in 2014; its second is set to open soon in Modesto, CA, ground zero for severe drought conditions in the United States.

Nestle takes a three-phase approach to achieving zero water goals, explained Brown: A water resource review that identifies waste; implementation of conservation efforts by reducing spillage on the assembly line, for example; and application of advanced technologies.

Following the review or audit, “conservation is a low-hanging fruit,” said Brown at the Montréal event. It’s something that all industrial facilities can achieve fairly easily by optimizing their cleaning operations and cooling processes, for example. Using technology to save water is more of a work in progress at this stage, but there has been some forward momentum. The dairy plant in Mexico is a recent example.

Nestlé extracts all the water it needs from the milk used to manufacture dairy products at the Jalisco facility. Next up is Nestlé’s milk factory in Modesto, CA, which will not use any local freshwater resources for its operations by 2018.

The project should save nearly 63 million gallons (238,000 cubic meters) of water each year, equivalent to 71% of absolute withdrawals in 2014, the company notes on its website.

Eliminating water waste should not be limited to bottled water companies; in fact, any facility that uses water in its industrial processes, and that includes the plastics industry, would be well advised to start a water resource review and begin conservation efforts, according to Brown. “I believe that zero waste will be a requirement across all industries in the future,” said Brown at the keynote. That process starts simply by making a commitment, he told PlasticsToday. “It is having the will to focus on water savings. It is devoting the budget needed for human and technological resources.”

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