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Nestle’ – Good or Greedy When it comes to Water?

The International Institute for Learning, Inc. recently held its 2016 International Project Management Day Virtual Conference.  They call their Keynote speakers “Thought Leaders” and “Influencers” in Project Management, Leadership, and Business Strategy. One of the IIL’s keynote speakers this year was Nelson Switzer, VP & Chief Sustainability Officer, Nestle’ Waters North America. His keynote lecture was titled: Why Proactive Water Stewardship is Good for Planet and Profit. If you go to the website linked above and select him you’ll see this bio:

Why Proactive Water Stewardship is Good for Planet and Profit

Nelson will lead a discussion on the need to incorporate the principles of water stewardship and sustainable development into business decision making by exploring existing water risks, a framework for assessing corporate understanding of water and introducing a process for water stewardship that any corporation can use to instill good water governance.

Career Highlights

As the Chief Sustainability Officer of Nestle Waters North America, Nelson’s professional goal is to help organizations embed the principles of sustainable development into business decision-making so they may create natural, social and economic capital that benefits all. He does so by employing the theory of constructive tension and championing transparent communication, responsibility and collective action. His unique experience as a strategic advisor – including work with global and local, public and private sector companies, governments, academia, associations and advocacy groups – has shaped his ability to solve problems collaboratively.

How you reconcile quarterly monthly profits, which is the backbone of corporatism, with true sustainability is a topic for another day but suffice it to say that the two don’t really work well together. Environmentalists (not capitalists) believe the whole idea of “development” needs to change. So in that context Mr. Switzer doesn’t really have an easy job. He has to sell people on the Nestle’ commitment to sustainability while the company continues to make quarterly profits to the benefit of its shareholders.

I watched Mr. Switzer’s keynote address. It was good. It was inspiring because he truly grasps the risks and issues surround all aspects of water today and in generations to come. He laid out the importance of partnering with and collaboration between environmental safety regulators, communities and businesses to address water risks and needs. This collaboration triad is the core of his stewardship plan. 

He started with some water footprint data which everyone should know:

  • 1 head of broccoli requires 5 gallons of water
  • 1 almond requires 1 gallon
  • 1 tomato requires 3 gallons
  • creating microprocessors requires 2-4 million gallons of ULTRA PURE water EVERY DAY

Since the address was to an audience of business project managers, Mr. Switzer quickly got to the corporate aspects of water when he used an example of how a dam failure allowed a tailing pond to pollute a stream had impacted not just the community’s trust but also corporate profits of the company that owned the tailing pond. The company profits were hit due to bad press, lack of trust, and the clean up costs. Given his audience, Project Managers, Switzer chose to focus on four questions each PM should always consider with regard to their projects that have water requirements. The materials are copyright protected by IIL so I will paraphrase those 4 questions below:

  1. Ask how water assets relate to operating an enterprise.    Think about things like making sure you can get it especially if interrupted somehow and what the price of that asset will be.  This is falls into the questions PMs consider when they’re doing risk assessments and maintaining the success of the project.
  2. Considering how your business and the community be impacted by the project. He noted most people live in the area where they work so if your job ends up polluting your ground water what’s that effect on you and your job?
  3. Thinking about the “real or perceived” impact that your project ACTIONS may have on the environment, community, or business.
  4. Thinking about the “real or perceived” impact the project’s ASSETS might incur in lots of different areas but always back to his triad: environment, social, and business.

All the discussion points were well conceived and provocative with the tone of someone who genuinely cares about the environment, community and social impacts. But they were also very clearly focused on the primary directive to continue growth and development. Again, exactly how do you sustain water assets while continuing to grow? Given water is a finite resource perhaps there are technological options to solution this limitation something like perhaps desalination or recovering and cleaning options. That was never discussed.

Interestingly enough he concluded risk assessments and risk management were not enough.  He went back to his water stewardship model and like any good corporation Nestle’ has a stewardship process that is all mapped out (can’t share it because it’s copy protected but believe me it’s just like any other business process – it has 7 steps that are all nicely visionary and well planned) but like everything else Mr. Switzer discussed, it has a strong reliance on partnering. So like so many other business plans, it looks good on paper but not exactly realistic when it comes to execution.

Consider this: How often do corporations REALLY, TRULY partner with communities? Corporate goals are about profits. Community goals are much more socialist, cautious, and focused well beyond quarterly profits and annual reports. So, for example, how would a poor community (like Flint, Michigan) stand up to an extremely wealth corporation that has all the backing of international trade agreements plus the support of state and local governments all of which are deeply entrenched in the continual growth paradigm?  (Timely example:

Case in point – the current situation in Michigan where Nestle’ wants to increase the amount of ground water it’s already taking at a tremendous rate and low cost:

Michigan regulators were deluged with angry comments this week, after reports that the state had drafted a permit approval for Nestlé to nearly double the amount of groundwater it pumps from a plant in Evart, Michigan to 210m gallons a year.

The pumping increase is only expected to cost the Swiss food giant $200 a year, and possibly the price of a permit fee, because its bottling plant in Evart is considered a private well under state law, regulators said.

In a statement, Nestlé touted the move as a boon to the state because it is created “some 20 new jobs”. The company is valued at $219bn.

Some local residents were not so enthusiastic.

Just consider that situation for a moment.  210,000,000 gallons of water a year from the water table which we know can not be replenished in a timely manner. And meanwhile in Michigan there are people struggling to get clean water to drink!  What will Nestle’ do with this water? Do they give it to the community that sits right on top of it? No, but they’ll sell it to the community. And they pay hardly anything for that water. According to this webpage:

They (Nestle’) acquired rights from the DNR in Michigan to pump water out of michigan for 99 years for just under $70,000. That’s right, for under $70,000 US dollars they have rights to pump hundreds of thousands of gallons of water out of Michigan each and every single day.

This information is taken from the documentary: Flow which is embedded below. The documentary specifically covers Nestle’ actions in Michigan and those actions are in absolute contradiction to Mr Switzer’s words.  Watch for yourself starting around 56mins.

Earlier in the address Mr. Switzer poses the question: Who should get water first in the case of a drought? I waited for it but this question was never answered.

I’ll leave you with a couple of things…

Firstly – Partnering, in theory, is beautiful ideal but the reality is always something less, isn’t it? Politicians and corporations work together to the best interests of the corporations that inevitably promise local jobs (which or may not manifest) and that’s what the politicians use to get the deal in the door. I have personally witnessed this many times. We all have if we just open our eyes to it.  Meanwhile the politicians give the corporations cheap prices and fantastic tax deals and other incentives. Stewardship/Sustainability and Growth/Development are, for the most part, opposites and this is something that both corporations and citizens must come to terms with and define a new paradigm that truly allows for sustainability.  The change must start within citizens.

Lastly – watch this to further your enlightenment about the water situation all around the world and how governments and corporations manage the asset. Again, the Nestle’ specific info starts at ~56 mins, but well worth your time to watch the entire video.

So after all this – I will not attempt to answer the question as to whether or not Nestle’ is good or greedy when it comes to water. I hope I’ve offered you some dots (particular with  the links below, not all of which have been incorporated into this post) so that you can connect those dots on your own to answer that question.

There is a petition you can sign and also the Snopes perspective on that petition (Snopes isn’t always reliable so take with grain of salt) for your review as well.

Thanks for reading. Your comments are welcomed, especially Mr. Switzer’s.

Read more / Sources:

  1. Proactive Water Stewardship is Good for Planet and Profit by Nelson Switzer
  2. Nestlé Waters Sustainability Chief Calls for New Leadership, Collaboration on Water Challenges by Hannah Furlong
  3. Accelerating Sustainability – Beginning with a Focus on Building Trust by Nelson Switzer (LinkedIn login probably required)
  4. NWNA Appoints Nelson Switzer to Lead Sustainability Efforts
  5. DEQ extends comment window, plans hearing on Nestle groundwater plan by Garrett Ellison
  6. Bottled Plotter -A viral petition about the proposed sale of groundwater to Nestlé in Michigan lacked some context. by Kim LaCapria (Snopes)
  7. Michigan is about to sell 100M gallons of groundwater to Nestlé for $200 (SumOfUs Petition)
  8. Michigan residents deplore plan to let Nestlé pump water for next to nothing: In a state still reeling from the Flint crisis the Swiss company would get nearly free access to pump 210m gallons a year for its bottled water business by Jessica Glenza
  9. Settlement reached in Mecosta County, Ice Mountain water case (AP)
  10. Nestle Pays Only $524 to Extract 27,000,000 Gallons of California Drinking Water by Claire Bernish
  11. Nestle Pays $2.25 to Bottle and Sell a Million Litres of BC Water by Bill Tieleman
  12. Frequently Asked Questions – The Hydrology of Groundwater
  13. In “Profound Loss for Maine’s Citizens,” Court OKs Sale of Town’s Water to Nestle. Decision “paves the way for a private corporation to profit from a vital public resource for decades to come.”by Andrea Germanos, staff writer
  14. Nestle’ Corporate Rap Sheet by Philip Mattera
  15. Profits Before People: 7 of the World’s Most Irresponsible Companies by Stephanie Rogers
  16. Nestle Continues Stealing World’s Water During Drought by Dan Bacher
  17. Nestle Is Trying to Break Us: A Pennsylvania Town Fights Predatory Water Extraction. Big corporations privatizing clean water to make a profit is stealing a human right. By Alexis Bonogofsky | April 29, 2016
  18. Donald Trump’s Connection to the Flint Water Crisis
  19. Water Wars in the Great Lakes by Holly Wren Spaulding
  20. NYC Tap Water bottled, sold for $1.50?! by Eye Witness News >  Interesting thing about this is that NYC water is stored in reservoirs upstate where the local residents have to drink water from the Hudson River….  The Hudson River flows along many extremely polluted sites, has water feeds which are on superfund clean up lists, and even flows by Indian Point Nuclear plant which has a record of spills. 

I did a Google search on “Nestle Cares About Local Communities” and other than Nestle webpages this was the only one on the first page of search results:

  1. AmeriCares and Nestle Send Water to Flint


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2 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. Nestle’ – Good or Greedy When it comes to Water? — Earth Network .news –
  2. Tiny Michigan Township Turns To Online Fundraising After Nestle Sues For Expanded Access To Its Spring Water – Earth Network .news


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