Energy concepts applied to Water, Water Footprint & Water Neutral

Joel Makower has an excellent post titled A Deeper Dive into the Business of Water.

A Deeper Dive into the Business of Water

Water hasn't yet risen to the level of energy and climate as a pressing issue for most companies, but the conversation seems to be flowing lately. And that conversation includes two concepts likely to enter the green lexicon.

One of those, "virtual water," received currency last month when its foremost proponent, Professor John Anthony Allan from King's College London and the School of Oriental and African Studies, was given the 2008 Stockholm Water Prize. Allen coined the term back in 1993 to refer to the amount of water embedded in the production and trade of food and consumer products. A cup of coffee, for instance has 140 liters (about 37 gallons) of virtual water, when you consider the amount of water used to grow, produce, package, and ship the beans. Similarly, a hamburger contains 2,400 liters (634 gallons) of virtual water.

The concept of virtual water (also known as embedded or embodied water) is of more than academic interest. As water concerns flood a greater number of regions, the embedded water of common products provides a useful understanding of how water resources are impacted by global trade. For example, it explains how and why nations such as the U.S., Argentina, and Brazil "export" billions of gallons of water each year — in the form, say, of water-intensive grain or meat —  while others like Japan, Egypt, and Italy "import" billions.

The concept also could be useful in national agriculture policy, much as "embedded energy" has aided policy makers' understanding that growing and processing corn to produce biofuels can require significantly more energy than the process yields. (Not that this knowledge has dissuaded policymakers from supporting energy-intensive biofuels, of course.) And it may become a factor in the price of many raw materials, should carbon taxes or trading systems illuminate the energy and carbon intensity of things like aluminum, glass, and plastic.

He makes references to others in the industry like Peter Gleick.

Gleick went on: "I actually think the risk to companies is larger in some ways for water than it is for energy. There are substitutes for energy. You can replace oil or electricity with biofuels or with renewables. Water has no substitutes."

The evil user in water discussions is Coca-Cola.

Coca-Cola recognizes that. And over the years, it has bumped up against activists, communities, and others for its water use — which is, of course, the fundamental ingredient of all of its beverages. In recent years, a series of developments pressed the need for a more comprehensive global water strategy. In the late 1990s, it began acquiring water brands (its principal U.S. offering is Dasani). In 2002, the company faced protests in India about the company's drawing down of groundwater resources. A year later, it began reporting water quality and quantity as a material risk to its business in its U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission Form 10-K for investors.

For a company like Coca-Cola to identify water quality and quantity as a material risk to its business gives you an idea of the WW issue in the water supply.

The post closes with.

Can it work? Will "water neutral" become the Next Big Thing in the field of corporate resource efficiency? Can it actually make a difference? It's a nascent idea, so it remains to be seen. But the high likelihood of continued water crises suggests that more and more companies will be learning about "virtual water" and "water neutrality."

For now I'm guessing that only a handful of companies — those whose products and reputation are most linked to the precious resource — will be willing to take the plunge.