The next seven years are going to see an ambitious step forward as far as water is concerned for global industrial Kimberly-Clark Corporation. As the company counts down to its 150th anniversary in 2022, it is gearing up for a programme of work to ensure the sustainable and secure operation of its production facilities located in the areas of highest water stress around the world.
‘To sustain our operations, we need to make sure that we have a sustainable level of water available all the time,’ says Vetrivel Dhagumudi, Global Water Program Leader at KCC. Water is now recognised generally as a risk globally, but that translates into a need for action at a local level as far as manufacturing-based businesses such as KCC are concerned. ‘Our whole concept is to improve the efficiency of those facilities that are located in high water stress regions,’ he adds.
KCC is a global organisation with 2014 sales of almost $20 billion, including five brands each worth a billion dollars or more. Its focus on personal and professional care products means KCC’s manufacturing is rooted in the pulp and paper industry, with some 55 tissue mill sites around the world.
The action on water security is therefore ambitious because of the scale of the business. Not only this, the 2022 Water Program is following on immediately from a sustainability initiative that has already seen water use around the world driven down by more than 26% by the end of last year compared to 2010, representing a reduction of some ten billion gallons. Central to this was investment in two major water recycling projects and a new wastewater treatment plant, and on top of this, more than two billion gallons of water were replenished for communities. ‘It was a large step up for us to get that water reduction,’ says Dhagumudi.
The next phase marks a shift to a risk-based approach, focusing attention on priority facilities. Dhagumudi explains that risks to the business include restrictions on water abstraction, regulatory changes, and increases in the cost of water, for example. ‘Looking towards 2022, we decided to ask what is the actual risk for us,’ he says.
Initial activity on the 2022 programme has included working with the World Resources Institute and its Aqueduct water risk tool to identify the regions of the world likely to be of most concern for KCC. Further work with stakeholders and a questionnaire-based assessment of individual facilities has also been carried out. On this basis, it is expected that approximately 10 sites will be targeted.
‘This will be a step push for all our facilities in water-stressed regions,’ says Dhagumudi. ‘In the next few years we are going to be doing a full water risk assessment, to really dig deeper into those areas where our mills are located and to understand what is the real risk. We can then custom-tailor water goals for each facility located in that region,’ he continues.
Plans for each location will be finalised by, for example, sharing best practices across the company, engaging with local stakeholders and operations staff, as well as getting input from technology suppliers, explains Dhagumudi. ‘The first step will be to go to the facility, do a water audit, find out exactly what are the gaps and opportunities, and then work with our technology providers and other resources to see how can we achieve these things cost-effectively,’ he says. Dhagumudi looks forward to reporting on progress, adding: ‘There is a lot of work to be done.’