Coca-Cola Co has said that it remains strongly committed to reducing water usage, but that communicating this message to its businesses around the world is a "big challenge".

Salvatore Gabola, director of public affairs for Coca-Cola Europe, said today (11 March) that the group is committed to reducing the amount of water used at its drinks manufacturing plants around the world by 20% by 2012.

Speaking at a joint briefing held by Coca-Cola Co and the World Wildlife Fund in London, Gabola said that sustainable water usage sits alongside a range of environmental issues that have become a "central" part of the soft drinks giant's business model in recent years.

Gabola conceded, however, that the firm faces a challenge to communicate the importance of this message to local subsidiaries.

"There's still a gap," he said. "The water issue is a local issue and [at this level] we typically have plant engineers and they don't always know how to manage the water cycle."

He added: "Increasingly, we have training schemes for plant managers. We also have training for local government officials."

Euan Wilmshurst, Coca-Cola international government relations manager, added: "In the past, we have not really appreciated who we should be talking to on a local level." He said that this remained a "big challenge".

More than 40% of the world's population live in a high "water stress" area, according to United Nations figures. 

Asked whether Coca-Cola would safeguard its environmental spend from capital expenditure cuts in the economic downturn, Gabola told just-drinks that the firm saw investment in sustainability as a "central" part of its business model.

"I'm not going to say that our scaling back of capital investment won't include any environmental investment," he said, but added that it would not be sensible to make cuts in key parts of the group's business model going forward.