Because access to fresh water is vital to consumers, our customers, our suppliers and Ball, we hold ourselves accountable for conserving and protecting water resources in our products, the communities where we operate and our entire value chain. A growing world population with greater demands for water-intensive food and energy, combined with increasing water needs and severe pollution of water resources in emerging economies, pose significant water supply constraints in some regions.
We are responsible stewards of water, using as little as possible for each product we produce. We continue implementing projects to better understand and manage regional and local water impacts. In 2015, Ball used 7 million cubic meters of water worldwide, primarily for forming, washing, rinsing and cooling. Our can businesses account for 93 percent of our total water use and improved water efficiency by 2 percent since 2012. To ensure we have reliable data, our global water usage was externally verified by PricewaterhouseCoopers.
Ball’s most water-intensive process is washing our cans during manufacturing. On average, washers account for about two-thirds of the total water consumption in a beverage can plant. To create efficiencies, Ball’s washer process occurs in counter-current cascades to reuse water at different washing stages.
To better understand, monitor and improve our water usage, Ball continues to invest in water monitoring equipment and installing new water meters. Since 2012, for example, we have equipped all washers in our North American and European beverage can plants with water meters. Enhanced water monitoring increases the visibility of water consumption, fosters employee awareness and enables us to better understand and optimize our systems. We also invested in wastewater treatment technologies, evaluated advanced treatment options for effluents and installed several pilot systems to enable water reuse. Additionally, our corporate technology team is examining breakthrough technologies and innovative equipment that will allow us to change how and how much water we use in our operations.
Case Study: Making Waves in Water Reclamation
While water reclamation is not a new idea in our business, it can be cost-prohibitive. Since regional regulation in India dictates that the only discharge method—even for treated water —is evaporation, the financial case was obvious for our greenfield plant in Ahmedabad, India.
Because the impact extrusion process requires significant amounts of water, our engineering teams brainstormed ideas to install a full treatment system to reclaim as much water as possible.
The plant partnered with a local company to design an onsite system to recycle the water, eliminating discharge costs and highlighting our commitment to water stewardship in the local community. The collaboration of third-party expertise with our water reclamation experience was successful. The new treatment system recycles water in two steps. In the flocculation step, process water is brought to a neutral pH during primary treatment, then is slowly and gently mixed so particles can group together into flocs. After this occurs, gravity removes suspended solids from the water through sedimentation. Then the sediment is processed into filter cakes—much like other plants generate through waste water treatment. All filter cake generated through this process is diverted to local companies for beneficial use. During secondary treatment, the water is cooled and filtered, and goes through two phases of reverse osmosis to further eliminate contaminants in the water so it can be reused in the manufacturing processes.
Though the plant only began producing cans in the second half of 2015, the project already has achieved significant results, reclaiming 95 percent of the plant’s water with only 5 percent lost through evaporation, during reverse osmosis, and in the filter cake. Like many best practices within our operations, this successful new process has been shared with other Ball engineers.
In several plants, we also appointed local water champions. These employees analyze water data, control water-consuming equipment and drive enhancements. While our goal is to reduce water consumption as much as possible, we also must diligently monitor the quality of produced cans. If we reduce the water intake of washers too much, the quality of our cans is affected and spoilage increases.
Because water is used in many steps along the packaging value chain—whether in mining and metal manufacturing or electricity generation—as well as in the production of the products that are put into our packaging, we maintain an open dialogue with our suppliers, customers and the communities where we operate.
A DEEPER UNDERSTANDING OF OUR WATER RISKS
Water scarcity, quality and discharge are operational and reputational risks for Ball and our value chain partners. Since 2013, we have utilized tools developed by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development and the World Resources Institute to map our facilities against watershed stress areas. Based on 2025 projections, 95 percent of our production facilities, as of year-end 2015, are located in areas with sufficient water supply—where the amount of water available meets the demand. We continue to focus on reducing water usage in plants where water scarcity will be high, and use these insights when planning new sites or introducing more water-intensive products at existing ones.
As our company transforms, we will continue to evaluate our resource and operational footprint and the associated risk factors to establish a Global Water Framework. This framework will formalize our global water stewardship efforts and outline a clear strategy for further engagement and conservation in our operations and along our value chain.
With predictions of a 30 percent global population increase by 2050, and a potential tripling in the size of the global economy over the same time period, demand for water will likely only increase. Yet over-abstraction, increasing pollution and the increasing concern over climate change are putting pressure on water supply. This disparity means that, at a global level, water demand is likely to materially exceed sustainable supply by 2030, giving rise to serious macro and micro economic issues.
These issues will have implications for the packaging industry throughout its value chain: from production, where water management strategies should focus on reducing costs, through water use efficiency improvements and pollution reduction, to the disposal of production waste and the prevention of pollutants leaching into water resources. As investors, we evaluate environmental, social and governance standards as part of our investment process, recognizing that related risks and opportunities that a company faces and manages have relevance for our investment thesis.
- Paal Klykken, Equity Analyst, Schroder Investment Management North America Inc.