Water : the new carbon

21 June 2008 at 9:47 am Leave a comment

crickey.com.au

Rachel Claydon writes:

Carbon consciousness is now here to stay. However the CO2 intensity of different activities isn’t the only issue concerning environmentalists. We’ve been aware of water shortages in many parts of the world for many years, but as these become more acute, the ‘water intensity’ of various products and processes is moving into the spotlight, particularly those relating to food and drink production. This is not about turning off the tap to save water when you brush your teeth, rather understanding how much water has been used to make the items that we consume every day, or what’s known as ‘embedded water’ (opens in pdf). The data are pretty staggering – it takes 35 litres to produce a cup of tea; 170 to produce a glass of orange juice; and 2400 to produce a hamburger – and are much easier to visualise than grams or tonnes of carbon.

Unlike carbon, the water issue has not yet reached mainstream consciousness, but this isn’t far off. Individuals can now calculate their personal ‘water footprint’ thanks to a collaboration between UNESCO and the University of Twente, and manufacturers are also starting to respond. The Coca Cola Company announced a new partnership with WWF in June last year around water conservation, and was already talking about reducing the water intensity of its products at the time. It may take a while to convince the British consumer that the world is short of water, even though the South East of England has less water per head than Istanbul. In many other markets, from Spain to China to Australia, consumers are already acutely aware of shortages. Without doubt companies need to actively scrutinise their supply chains and implement water saving strategies. This said, water footprinting may prompt people to move away from certain ‘water heavy’ categories altogether – meat, especially red meat, is a prime candidate.

The chart at the top is from the Australian news site crikey – perhaps not surprisingly, given Australia’s acute water shortage.

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Entry filed under: consumers, food, sustainability.

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