Diving In: The Corporate Water Footprinting Conference

water-footprintThe second Corporate Water Footprinting Conference splashes down in San Francisco this December 2-3 and I’ll be there to report on how companies such as Patagonia, Pepsi, BC Hydro, Raisio, and Intel are addressing water risks and opportunities in their operations and to their brands. The other two primary H2O stakeholder groups; government agencies and NGO’s, will also be active participants.  I am eager to see how transparency, innovative technologies, and creative partnerships are contributing to triple bottom line solutions including environmental stewardship, economic value, social responsibility, and cultural vitality.

As you may have noticed, water is becoming an increasingly important concern within both the private and the public sector. Type “water crisis” in your favorite search engine (Google turned up 35,700,000 entries) and you’ll see why.  Briefly, here’s the water picture:

Globally, less than 1% of the world’s fresh water (or about 0.007% of all water on earth) is readily accessible for direct human use. Human population is forecast to increase from 6.5 billion to 9.1 billion by 2050. This population growth – coupled with industrialization and urbanization – will result in an increasing demand for water in all sectors. Depending on the country, roughly 70% of total water consumption is agricultural, 20% industrial, 10% domestic, and 4% evaporation from storage. According to a 2008 UNICEF/WHO report, 884 million people lack access to safe water supplies (approximately one in eight people) and 3.575 million people die each year from water-related disease. Global climate change symptoms like reduced snow pack, increased glacial melt, and extreme weather patterns are forecast to throw additional fuel on the proverbial fire that is the water crisis.

Locally, here in California, after three years of drought and conservation measures, the State Resources Department said on Tuesday (12/1/09) that drought and environmental restrictions have forced them to cut planned water deliveries to irrigation districts and cities statewide to just five percent of their contracted allotments. Drive the Interstate 5 through the state’s Central Valley to witness the effects of limited water allocations; un-irrigated and dying crops.

Both globally and locally, companies, government agencies, and NGO’s need to address “The Big Elephant” in the room that is agricultural water usage. I’m looking forward to hearing if and how corporations, especially those that depend on agricultural inputs, are leveraging positive change in their supply chains, operations, and policy activities.

Surveying the conference agenda, it appears that three of the scheduled presenters will provide insight and solutions to the challenge of growing more crops using much less water. First is James Workman, author of The Art of Dryness, How the Last Bushmen Can Help Us Endure the Coming Age of Permanent Drought and the opinion piece in the LA Times titled, Copenhagen’s missing ingredient: water. Patagonia, a company near and dear to my heart, not to mention on the vanguard of corporate sustainability, is sending Elissa Loughman, its environmental analyst, and I want to learn more about the company’s fabric sourcing best practices. Curious as well to hear the report from CEO Matti Rihko of Raisio, the world’s first food company to add an H2O label to product packaging, and what it is learning from that practice.

So stay tuned!

Because you never know what you don’t know!

David Lewbin