06/21/2012 03:45 pm ET

Food and Water: Collaboration for the Next Billion

"The growing global water crisis demands immediate attention and action. As business leaders, we believe strongly that we have a responsibility to make water sustainability a top management priority." These are words from a pre-Rio+20 communique released this week and signed by the CEOs of 45 of major global corporations, as part of the UN Global Compact's CEO Water Mandate.

These words also reflect a truth for businesses like PepsiCo today. As one of the world's largest food and beverage businesses, water affects how and where we grow food and manufacture our products. Nearly six out of 10 of our top raw materials at PepsiCo are plants. Agriculture alone represents, on average, 70 percent of global water withdrawal, and as high as 90 percent in developing economies.

As the global population continues to grow and shift, more food will need to be grown using increasingly limited water. How we provide for another billion people by 2030 is a topic of critical concern for governments, citizens and businesses. And so at PepsiCo we are searching for a Recipe for the Next Billion and are asking partners, peer companies, and our own people to think about the "ingredients" needed to feed our growing planet.

Since 2009 we have recognized water as a human right (almost a year before ratification by the United Nations Council for Human Rights) and we see water stewardship as a shared responsibility critical to our growth as a business and to society's broader needs. We take a comprehensive approach that spans watershed preservation, irrigation, suppliers, communities, and operations. And last week it was announced that PepsiCo will be honored with the prestigious Stockholm Industry Water Award in 2012.

The Award is a result of actions taken globally:

  • Improving our own water efficiency. Between 2006 and 2010 we improved water-use efficiency by 18.7 percent for foods manufacturing, and 17.8 percent for beverage manufacturing, translating into water savings of 13.8 billion liters.
  • Rolling out a technology called i-crop, which allows targeted delivery of just the right amount of water to the root zones of crops, thereby conserving significant volumes of water in agriculture.
  • Helping farmers shift from "flooding" irrigation techniques to more water-conserving methods, which can reduce water use by as much as 50 percent.
  • Advocating for "direct seeding" (particularly in India), which allows the avoidance of nurseries and flood irrigation, and so reducing water by up to 30 percent.
  • Partnering with groups including, The Nature Conservancy, Cambridge University, the Inter-American Development Bank, the Safe Water Network, the All China Women's Federation, and Columbia University's Earth Institute, among others.

As government leaders from 100+ countries gather in Rio 20 years after the original Earth Summit, it is encouraging that water has emerged as one of the priorities. Of course, Rio of 2012 is a very different place from 1992, with many governments now hobbled by recession, austerity and domestic politics. Fortunately, private and public sector agendas have rarely been more aligned and their core strengths more complementary. As the world readies for the next billion people, Rio+20 is providing a unique opportunity for all sectors to partner in response to the world's emerging food and water crises.