Saturday, February 28, 2009

Water footprint

Water is a scarce commodity... and we live in an age in which, for better or worse, people of all kinds are obsessed with reducing their "carbon footprint." Now there are more footprints to worry about: water footprints.
The Wall Street Journal recently gave some examples of this sort of thing:

It takes roughly 20 gallons of water to make a pint of beer, as much as 132 gallons of water to make a 2-liter bottle of soda and about 500 gallons of water, including water used to grow, dye and process cotton, to make a pair of Levi's stonewashed jeans.
Other examples include the nearly 35 gallons of water behind every cup of coffee, the 700 gallons behind the typical dyed T-shirt, and the 630 gallons to produce a single hamburger.

So a water footprint is basically how much water you use to produce a given consumer good. There is a lot more attention focused on reducing this water footprint, especially since water-scarcity issues are cropping up a lot more these days.

You may be familiar with these numbers: Two-thirds of the world's population face water shortages by 2025, according to the United Nations. And according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, about 36 states face water shortages by 2013.

These issues may not seem so pressing to you, since every time you turn on the tap, the water flows. And you can get all the bottled water you can buy at any grocery store. Unless you live in the Western states, where water rights are more of a concern, you may not appreciate water-scarcity issues.

But it is an important issue for industrial users of water all over the world. Nike, Pepsi, Starbucks, Levi's, and about 100 other companies recently held a conference in Miami on reducing water footprints. So this is serious business.

It's not just an attempt to be eco-friendly, either. It's nothing but good old-fashioned greed that compels companies to think about their water usage. If you are Coca-Cola, you need a good water supply. And you can't have locals railing at you for depleting their already low water supply to make fizzy sugar water. Coca-Cola either finds ways to use water more efficiently or the locals will shut production down.

The Journal notes in passing SABMiller's experience in Tanzania. SABMiller makes Miller Lite, Peroni, and Pilsner Urquell. Its factory in Dar es Salaam depleted local aquifers, causing them to grow increasingly salty. Meanwhile, the city has water shortages already. SABMiller has to find a way use water more efficiently or it will go out of business in Tanzania.

These kinds of stories repeat themselves in different settings all over the world. As one manager for the Freshwater Footprint Project for the World Wildlife Fund said, "Three billion more people are going to be on this planet" by 2050. "Somehow, we're going to have to use the same amount of water we use today."

Nalco is right in the heart of this issue. Nalco's customers are industrial users. Nalco's services improve water efficiency. The company also offers services to reduce air pollution, treat industrial wastewater, and more. In this, Nalco is the global leader, with a 17% global market share. It's bigger than GE in water.


Anonymous said...

Great article. I find the whole water footprint idea sobering to say the least. People just don't consider the water that goes into everything we touch on a daily basis.

I do however question your last paragraph. Nalco is a water chemical supplier and is no where near the same size as GE in the water business. GE matches Nalco in the water/chemical business but Nalco does not have Reverse Osmosis (membranes + equipment, Hollow Fiber Membrane, Emergency Mobile Water solutions or Analytical Testing Equipment for a start.

GE Water is a 2.3 Billion dollar division of GE. Nalco is a 1.35 Billion dollar company.

Q-jumpers said...

Thank you for your comments. I am glad that CGE is a major player in this important market. The more innovators the better. On our tech site

We have posted additional water conservation articles - please contribute your thoughts to the innovation site - QJ