Food companies are on the front lines of climate change, and for the past several years many in Ceres networks have been setting aggressive goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, invest in renewable energy, and engage in policy advocacy.

Now food companies are tackling both water scarcity, which is inextricably linked to climate change—and water pollution in their supply chains. That’s good news because from farm to factory, producing food is the most water intensive business on earth. One gallon of milk requires more than 500 gallons of water to produce—from the water used to grow the dairy cow’s feed, to the water used to sterilize equipment at the milk processing plant. As with any food item, the vast majority of that water is used in the dairy producer’s agricultural supply chain.

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Prodded in part by Ceres research benchmarking food and beverage company management of water risks, as well as investor engagement on the issue, food companies today are taking a hard look at their agricultural supply chains. They are evaluating the regions most at risk for water scarcity and pollution, and developing plans to work with their growers to conserve water resources.

To recognize progress and encourage food company leadership on stewarding water resources, Ceres and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) teamed up in 2016 to launch the AgWater Challenge

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In 2016, seven companies were recognized as Ceres-WWF AgWater Stewards: Diageo, General Mills, Hain Celestial, Hormel Foods, Kellogg Company, PepsiCo, and WhiteWave Foods. The criteria included setting time-bound and measurable commitments to reduce the water impacts in their supply chains; implementing local strategies to mitigate risk in agricultural areas where water is scarce or polluted; and supporting and incentivizing farmers to strengthen water stewardship practices. 

Among the commitments, Ceres Company Network member PepsiCo pledged to work with its agricultural suppliers to improve the water efficiency of its direct agricultural supply chain by 15 percent by 2025 (2015 baseline) in high water risk sourcing areas, including India and Mexico. Hormel Foods is developing the first comprehensive water stewardship policy for a meat company, setting water management expectations that go beyond regulatory compliance for its major suppliers, contract animal growers and feed suppliers.

In 2017, Ceres and WWF will continue to encourage food company leadership on water risks through the AgWater Challenge. Ceres will also release a second report benchmarking food and beverage company management of water risks.