The Next Green Business Challenge: Cutting Water Usage

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Should companies be more concerned with their water output than their carbon output?

Thousands of gallons of water are needed to produce the simplest of consumer goods. While water might seem like an easily replenished resource, it is not. The UN is warning of water scarcity in the next 20 years unless businesses and people change their current consumption patterns.

A story in the Wall Street Journal lays out how much water is needed to manufacture some everyday items. (Click through for interactive graphic):

  • 20 gallons of water for a pint of beer
  • 132 gallons of water for 2 liter bottle of soda
  • 500 gallons of water for a pair of Levi’s jeans
  • 35 gallons for a cup of coffee
  • 700 gallons for a cotton t-shirt
  • 630 gallons for a hamburger

Calculating these numbers is a tricky game for companies that want to cut back on their water usage. Does Levi’s include an estimate for how much water is needed to keep the jeans clean over the years? Should it include the water needed to grow the cotton it weaves into its jeans? Or just the water used at the plant where the jeans are made? All of these questions are still being sorted out.

The sooner companies can settle on a decision, the sooner they can change their business and start saving money and protecting the environment. Unilever saved $26 million by cutting water usage between 2001 and 2007.

 

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