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Leaving Wet Footprints

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There’s been a lot of talk lately about a new set of footprints being tracked through the house of Mankind. We can’t see them, but they leave just as big an impression as anything related to carbon.

Meet the water footprint, and large companies — from Anheuser-Busch to Wal-Mart — have taken steps to reduce the amount of H2O they use in production processes, transportation and administration.

water_drop.jpg“People are beginning to realize it’s all related, and that’s why I think water is coming up now, whenever people talk about things like carbon footprints,” said Kai Olson-Sawyer, program manager of H2O Conserve, one of several organizations working to publicize water conservation. I interviewed him for a story we’re working on for the next issue of SN Whole Health, and several links that retailers and other food industry pillars might find useful.

Overall, the news is good. consumptions is actually dropping. According to The Freedonia Group, companies consumed about 13 gallons of water per dollar of GDP in 2007, down from more than 16 gallons in 1997.

The flip side, naturally, is that there are more companies out there, and the growth is focused on geographical areas where water shortages tend to be an issue: the West, Mountain West, Southwest and Southeast.

H2O Conserve’s website includes a simple calculator individuals can use to determine their water consumption. For large companies, the formula is much more complicated. Still, it’s a worthy effort to undertake, and it has definite financial benefits as well. The key is to examine not only the obvious sources of water waste (leaks, large-tank toilets, etc.), but the less visible areas: How much water is used to create packaging? How much to transport goods to the store? How much in the production of those items for sale on the shelf?

Like carbon, determining water footprints — and working to reduce them — demonstrates convincingly just how interconnected the food industry is, and the impact retailers like Wal-Mart can have on cutting down on wasteful practices.

(Photo credit: Kevin Pelletier)

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