The Coca-Cola Company has pledged to replace the water it uses in its beverages and their production at all its global operations and franchises.

The soft drinks giant said at the WWF annual meeting in Beijing today (5 June) that it plans to invest US$20m to help conserve water and reduce its carbon footprint. The company's pledge will focus primarily on reducing the water used to produce its beverages, recycling water used for beverage manufacturing processes and replenishing water in communities and nature.

Coca-Cola chairman and CEO Neville Isdell said: "Our goal is to replace every drop of water we use in our beverages and their production."

WWF International director general James Leape said: "The Coca-Cola Company is answering the call to help solve the global freshwater crisis through this bold partnership. The company is stepping into new and uncharted territory, and we look forward to working together to meet the bold commitments they have made to water stewardship."

Coca-Cola has said that it aims to return all water that it uses for manufacturing processes to the environment at a level that supports aquatic life and agriculture by the end of 2010. The company plans to grow its support of healthy watersheds and sustainable communities to balance the water used in its finished beverages. This will include: watershed protection, community water access, rain water harvesting, reforestation and agricultural water use efficiency.

The company noted that it has community and watershed programs in 40 countries and 300 rainwater harvesting structures globally.

Isdell added: "Society is just beginning to understand the world's water challenges. No single company or organisation has all of the answers or holds ultimate responsibility, but we all can do our part to conserve and protect water resources. Our company will need time and cooperation from our bottlers, our suppliers and our conservation partners to accomplish the goal of replacing the water we use. We will be open about our progress and engage others to better understand what it takes."

WWF-US president Carter Roberts said: "The Coca-Cola Company's commitment to water neutrality is a first. We need more companies to step up and make similar commitments if we are going to reverse these current trends."

Coca-Cola has hit the headlines in recent years, having been accused of affecting the level of the water table near its facility in India - a charge the company has consistently denied.