Drink It In: How Colgate Is Taking Action to Save Water
Taking action across our value chain, engaging consumers, and supporting water access in our communities
By Cecilia Coates, Process Development Analyst
Updated March 2022
Saving water is a cornerstone of Colgate-Palmolive’s 2025 Sustainability Strategy, crucial to our overall mission to create a healthy and sustainable future.
We’re taking action to ensure water stewardship, security and resilience across our value chain, protecting ecosystems and supporting water access in our communities. That means we take care of water and conserve its use, help people gain access to safe water and mitigate risks associated with water scarcity.
This work isn’t new to Colgate. Between 2002 and 2020, we’ve cut in half the amount of water we use to make our products. We’ve also enlisted our suppliers, NGO partners and consumers in myriad Save Water initiatives.
Now we’re expanding on that foundation and setting even more aggressive targets.
By 2025 we will:
- Engage 100% of our material suppliers with operations in water-stressed regions to take action on water security
- Achieve Net Zero Water (as defined by USGBC LEED Zero Water) at our manufacturing sites in water-stressed areas (and at 100% of our manufacturing sites by 2030)
- Reduce our manufacturing water intensity by 25% vs. 2010
- Embed sustainability (including water stewardship) into each phase of the product design and development process
- Promote water conservation awareness with our Save Water messaging to 100% of our global consumers, with a strong focus on water-stressed areas
- Provide 1 million people with access to clean, safe water & sanitation systems
To achieve these goals, we’re taking a holistic approach, collaborating with everyone who touches our business.
We’re taking action to ensure water stewardship, security and resilience across our value chain, protecting ecosystems and supporting water access in our communities.
Partnering with Suppliers
Colgate wants to encourage water-security best practices among our suppliers. We’re reaching out to gather water-use data and working with suppliers to improve outcomes in water-stressed regions. Such water-footprint analytics will influence our decisions on which ingredients we use and where we source them.
Take, for example, the natural mint farmers we partner with in North America. Climate forecasts project increased water stress in some areas where our suppliers grow. We’re getting ahead of that issue, engaging with the Mint Industry Research Council to explore and adopt smart irrigation and other techniques to help ensure farmers can take good care of water resources while producing their crops.
More recently, we started action towards our goal of engaging 100% of our material suppliers with operations in water stressed regions. We have carried out webinars to share Colgate's Water Stewardship commitment and trajectory and explained how our suppliers can join us in this journey. We focused on India first, highlighting some best practices of water stewardship projects and processes that we have put in place to support our Sustainability strategy and goals at Colgate.
Optimizing Our Operations
At Colgate’s manufacturing sites we remain laser-focused on withdrawing the least amount of water from the environment.
Our plants deploy ever-more-efficient practices as we keep driving down our water manufacturing intensity (amount of water used per ton of product produced). Cleaning processes, for example, now require far less water and energy thanks to single-step sanitization, an innovation we developed with our partners at Ecolab.
In addition, rainwater harvesting, on-site water treatment and returning water to the environment are also key to our Net Zero Water efforts around the world, especially water-stressed areas like India.
With the Colgate brand in more homes than any other on the planet, we have a unique opportunity to inspire people to conserve water.
Since launching in 2016, our “Save Water” public awareness campaign has led consumers to save an estimated 206 billion gallons. The campaign shows how a small change like turning off the tap when you brush your teeth can make a big difference. And since water and wastewater treatment systems are energy-intensive, every drop of water saved means less energy used. We estimate consumers contributed to an avoidance of 10.8 million metric tons of CO2 emissions thanks to those 206 billion gallons going unused.
Improving Water Access for Health & Hygiene
Unfortunately, billions of people today still do not have reliable access to clean, safe water -- even in healthcare settings. Together with NGO partners like Water for People, we’re committed to providing 1 million people with WASH services [water, sanitation and hygiene].
We’re expanding WASH initiatives in key communities where water access will be a key conduit to the success of our oral health and handwashing education programs through Colgate Bright Smiles, Bright Futures. We’re working toward a future free from cavities and other preventable diseases.
Diseases that include Covid-19. During the pandemic, we’ve partnered with the WHO to bring 25 million bars of our #SafeHands soaps to people in need. Instructions for effective handwashing are included with each bar, fostering better health outcomes in vulnerable communities.
The water challenges before us are daunting; collective action is of paramount importance. We acknowledge the need to accelerate progress in watershed risk assessments and restoration project, especially in areas designated as priority basins.
Through our participation in the United Nations Global Compact’s CEO Water Mandate, we’ve joined forces with a number of leading companies in an industry-driven initiative, the Water Resilience Coalition. The Coalition aims to preserve the world’s freshwater resources through shared, ambitious, quantifiable commitments that are meaningful and measurable, many of which mirror Colgate’s targets outlined here. In 2022, we joined the CEO Water Mandate Steering Committee, where we will help oversee the initiative’s strategy and decision making alongside our committee peers.
Working together, we will help enable new tools and technology; advocate for smart water management and equitable policies by governments; and bring scale to new and existing initiatives.
It won’t be easy or simple. But by doing everything in our power to achieve global water security, we will be reimagining a healthier future for all.