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Diving In: The Corporate Water Footprinting Conference

David Lewbin
| Tuesday December 1st, 2009 | 9 Comments

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!


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  • http://www.facebook.com/nickaster Nick Aster

    I'd really like to see some kind of list (probably a bit subjective) on which companies are really taking water seriously, and which are just saying that they are. I'm not really sure how you'd best judge that, but the thought process would be interesting!

    • davidlewbin

      great idea Nick!
      Talk to some of the water interested Ngo's like Food and Water Watch and the NRDC and see which companies are involved in best in class best practices.

  • James Rogers

    David, will you be able to share with us what techniques, protocols, and software companies are using to measure their water footprint? I think that is something useful that other companies could then use. I would also be interested, similar to carbon footprinting, where these companies are drawing the line. Are they looking all the way up their supply chain? Are they looking at the water used by the end consumer for their products? I am curious if those types of questions are also being addressed by this conference.

    • david

      Hey James,
      Big Questions!
      Boundry issues with water(where you draw the lines for what is included and what is excluded) are very complex
      And yes, they are being pondered at this conference.
      Check out waterfootprinting.org, and ISO. Also the CEO Water Mandate
      Cheers

  • davidgljay

    I'm curious what's driving the discussion of water risk at a strategic level in major corporations. Is it just general public awareness? Pressure from investors? Is the science that's out there getting read and discussed in c-level suites? It seems like a lot of vulnerable companies aren't seriously talking about this yet.

  • david

    Jay, good question about drivers,
    The drivers are all the things you mentioned.
    You are right…too many companies are asleep at the wheel on this one.
    Check out the CEO Water Mandate to see companies that are getting out in front of water risk

  • davidlewbin

    great idea Nick!
    Talk to some of the water interested Ngo's like Food and Water Watch and the NRDC and see which companies are involved in best in class best practices.

  • david

    Jay, good question about drivers,
    The drivers are all the things you mentioned.
    You are right…too many companies are asleep at the wheel on this one.
    Check out the CEO Water Mandate to see companies that are getting out in front of water risk

  • david

    Hey James,
    Big Questions!
    Boundry issues with water(where you draw the lines for what is included and what is excluded) are very complex
    And yes, they are being pondered at this conference.
    Check out waterfootprinting.org, and ISO. Also the CEO Water Mandate
    Cheers