Guest SpeakersLearning From Leaders

12 Things We Learned from Chairman of Nestlé Peter Brabeck-Letmathe

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After Peter Brabeck-Letmathe delivered his talk to EU students, alumni, faculty, press and distinguished guests, he answered questions from the audience and sat down to an interview with us. Here are 12 things we learned:  

1. Agriculture uses a lot of water

“…If you had a hydraulic dam, the water comes down and moves the turbines and afterward, this water is returned. Agriculture doesn’t give it [water] back. This is one of the biggest issues today. Today we are withdrawing about 30% more water than what is sustainable. We withdraw it, basically, from the underground reservoirs which we have. And those underground reservoirs are going down at an alarming manner.”

2. For a lot of us… organic farming is not the way to the future

“Unfortunately [organic farming] is not using less resources. It’s using more resources. So organic alone cannot be the solution. Organic is a great solution for countries like Switzerland, Austria, which have a limited amount of people to feed… but it’s not an answer to the big challenge of how to feed 10 billion people… it will always be the privilege of the people who can and have the money to pay something more. Because [ogranic farming] is more resource intensive and less yield and therefore more expensive. Now, agriculture is a different story.”

3. He has strong opinions on POTUS

“The newly elected president puts more money into defense and takes it away – by the way not only from the health budget, he takes it also from the diplomatic budget. If you look, 30% of the state secretariat has to be brought down. So, I think he’s been talking with these private equity guys and said we’ve been doing this restructuring to spend more…”

“It’s fantastic to think, that in a country like the United States, that somebody can be elected president by trying to find a solution for the future by going backward into the past.”

4. Nestlé uses 0.0009% of all water in the world

“We are not the biggest company involved in water by far. Because we are not involved in tap water, drinking water, irrigation water, we are only involved in bottle water. In bottled water, it’s true we are the world leader bottle water company. Just to give you an idea, we are using, for all the bottled water we are producing all over the world, we are using 0.0009% of all water that is withdrawn.”

5. Bottled water is a necessary resource in emergency situations

“Whenever you have a catastrophic issue, the first thing that people need is bottled water. When you think about Haiti or any earthquake, what is the first thing that the government has to bring to the population? It’s bottled water. Even more ironic, if you have a big flood, which is, you have too much water. What do you need? Bottled water… in spite of it all, bottled water is a source for the people.”

6. Big companies have a big social responsibility

“We are in Sudan… helping people with bottled water.. together with UNHCR we have established, in their refugee camps, tap water installations for the refugees… this is part of our social responsibility… In Pakistan, for example, we have a factory, and two villages of 10,000 people who take out water free of charge… we are very much active in this area.”

7. 40% of all food produced is thrown away

“About 40% of all food which is being produced is being thrown away. And that’s again, part of the unsustainability of our system. Now, if you’re from Africa, you’ll lose about 40% of all food produced… because there is not a sufficient food industry. That’s exactly what happened before in the 1800s when the fresh food was brought to the city, by the time it arrives… it’s already rotten… And in Europe in the most developed part of it, we throw it away at home… this is a huge issue.”

8. Vegetarians use less water than meat eaters – 4,000 liters less per day in fact!

“If you are vegetarian [you need], about 2,000 liters per day. And if you are Texans [that is, you enjoy meat a lot], you are eating about 6,500 liters of water per day. Because we need one liter of water to produce one calorie if it comes from a plant. We need 10 liters of water to produce 1 calorie when it comes from animals.”

“When you eat 500 grams of steak you use a huge amount of water.”

9. Food wastage is key to solving the water problem

If we can get a grip on the 40% of food wastage, we would have solved the water problem of the world…the most efficient way to solve the water problem. Is to avoid that we have food wastage. And this is the link that I wanted to point out.”

10. He convinced the UN that water should be a human right

“Water is a human right. And you would be surprised, it was me 10 years ago who convinced Kofi Anan that water should be declared a human right… it was only about 10 years ago that the UN declared water a human right.  Before, it was not.”

11. Water is a human right, but you can’t have as much as you want

“Let me be very clear, for me it’s a human right. The 1.5% water withdrawal that we need to ensure that everybody on this earth has access to 25 to 30 liters to water, five liters for hydration and 25 for minimum hygiene. That’s a human right. And it’s up to governments to ensure that this human right is being granted to everybody on Earth. That’s my interpretation. I’ll say it again. I don’t think it’s a human right to fill…[a] swimming pool… to water the golf courses and to use resources for that… I believe that the 1.5% is a human right that we need that we need to live but not the other 98.5% that we are using in an irresponsible manner because we do not give any value to water.”

12. The future of work

“Just think about the driverless car. If you look at the American economy the number one job in all of the United States is driver. Whether its truck driver, taxi driver, Uber driver, whatever. Drivers, that’s the biggest job they have. In five years, they can all be jobless. What I’m saying is, I don’t know how we’re going to get jobs for those people. No idea. But we need to start to think about it.”

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