Taking a Stand on Your Water Footprint

Taking a Stand on Your Water Footprint Sat Jun 6, 2009 10:26am EDT

We often hear sustainability defined by the mantra “people, planet, profit.” Yet when it comes to water, it seems that the “people” portion of the equation has gotten short thrift. Globally, thousands of children die each day from drinking unsafe drinking water and 890 million people don’t have access to clean water.

In addition to the social justice aspect of the water issue, the other half of the equation is water supply. Yes, we have to deal with peak oil, but don’t forget about peak water. Wednesday morning at Sustainable Brands 09′ the panel on water included two organizations tackling the water issue from different perspectives: Peter Cleary from LifeStraw and Tim Carey, Director of Sustainability from PepsiCo.

LifeStraw is a small water purification device that purifies 99% of virus and bacteria out of water and can be used affordably in rural areas that lack clean drinking water. The LifeStraw, which comes in Personal and Family models, meets EPA guidelines for microbiological water purifiers. Not many companies can get away with linking poop and clean water in a marketing message, but Carey’s presentation included a video clip of cow dung being added to water before it is filtered and slurped up by willing volunteers.

Tim Carey from PepsiCo tackled another aspect of the water issue. And no, he didn’t talk about bottled water. He spoke about the need to make water a business issue. He kicked things off by saying, “The issue is cost. When you think about it, we can deplete an aquifer, and at the same time pay pennies per thousands of gallons. That is remarkable.” He had several ideas on how to include water in the business equation. One of the challenges he stressed is the difficulty of accessing detailed data on the water crisis.

To minimize risk, companies should consider the following:

  • Understand your water footprint: Companies need to think about their water footprint and take this information into account when making decisions about agricultural practices, manufacturing and packaging.
  • Educate executives and staff: When a facility in Atlanta was threatened with only 90-days to cut water use before their aquifer went dry, staff was able to save 100,000 gallons of water in a few months without a single capital request. If senior executives and staff are better informed about peak water and the need to conserve, innovation and creative solutions can emerge before a crisis hits.
  • Get consumers and suppliers involved: Echoing the message heard throughout the conference, Carey urged the audience to engage consumers to be part of the solution. On the supply side of the equation, companies need to get their suppliers engaged. For example, Naked Juice, in partnership with Rainforest Alliance, told their suppliers they would only buy sustainably harvested bananas.

Deborah Fleischer is the principal and founder of the sustainability consulting firm Green Impact. © Thomson Reuters 2009.

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