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World Water Day Brings a Flood of Corporate Commitments

Today marks the 19th annual World Water Day, a United Nations project that has increasingly been adopted by public and private groups around the world to call attention to the risks we pose to the water supply, and how to address them.

As with last year's event, today brings a number of commitments from companies that are actively working on their own water impacts.

Below, we present a far-from-comprehensive list of the announcements made by companies large and small in recognition of World Water Day.

Corporate Commitments, Large and Small

Today, in addition to signing on to the annual Earth Hour observation, Hilton Hotels' Conrad N. Hilton Foundation pledged $50 million over five years to organizations working on improving water conditions around the world. Among the grantees so far include WaterAid America and World Vision, for a project to build safe water sources in West African countries; CREPA, the African Regional Centre for Water and Sanitation, to assess the functionality of 2,000 wells in Africa that the foundation had previously constructed, and for its communications and advocacy work on water (more on which below).

Nestle Waters North America used World Water Day as the occasion to publish its 2010 Citizenship Report. The company announced it had made progress on some of its 2008 goals, including providing full source labeling for all its bottled water brands and converting its virgin PET bottles to antimony-free resin by the end of 2011. Among the new goals announced in the report are the company's intention to increase recycling rates to 60 percent of PET bottles sold in the U.S. by 2018 (and 85 percent in Canada); recycle 97 percent of the solid waste generated by its operations; and develop 100 percent recycled or renewable bottles by 2020.

(Incidentally, Pepsico last week announced that it would have a 100 percent recyclable and plant-based bottle ready for testing in 2012.)

ScottsMiracle-Gro today announced that it will begin working on the impacts its products have on water quality, reformulating them to remove all phosphorus from its fertilizers by the end of 2012 and optimizing the amount of nitrogen used in its fertilizers.

Excess use of nitrogen and phosphorus in fertilizers is largely responsible for the enormous and ever-growing dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico. And although individual use of fertilizers is nowhere near as large a culprit as large-scale agriculture operations, Scotts Miracle-Gro will also expand its customer education campaigns to help end users prevent over-fertilizing and runoff, which can impact water supplies on smaller scales.

General Electric today released a new tool in its Intelligent Water initiative -- the Proficy for Water InfoCenter. The tool gives companies insights into their water usage, footprint, costs and solutions for getting a view of the entire "water grid."

Nalco, an industrial sustainability services firm, committed today to spending nearly $1 million over the course of the next three years on two projects: The first is a $450,000 grant to WWF to address pollution and stewardship efforts at China's third-largest freshwater lake; the second is a $500,000 commitment to Water for People to fund water, sanitation and hygiene programs in India.

Shoemaker Teva launched a shopping-based program today that will find the company protecting one linear foot of global waterways for each pair of Teva products sold in 2011. The company will donate to nonprofits including the Ocean Conservancy and the Waterkeeper Alliance to protect as much as 4.3 million feet of waterways.

Last (and perhaps or perhaps not) least, Asia Pulp & Paper today continued its recent expansion of sustainability efforts by committing to the U.N.'s CEO Water Mandate. The Water Mandate was launched in 2007 by six CEOs and has now expanded to include a who's who of global corporations APP noted that it was the first Indonesian pulp and paper company to sign the Mandate. The move comes as the latest in a long series of sustainability initiatives that started in 2009 in the wake of a number of black eyes over its environmental practices. Though the company has been working on its green practices for several years, Greenpeace has long taken the company to task about sustainability issues, and continues to call the firm out for greenwashing.

Education and Awareness-Raising Around the World

Not all the announcements companies made today focus around new commitments, goals or funding announcements. A smaller subset of news around World Water Day addresses education and awareness-raising efforts.

First up, the aforementioned is showcasing its outreach and education efforts, including a partnership with Levi's on Facebook to share water-saving tips with jeans owners, a Groupon-based donation program, and videos from prominent YouTube users about water efforts in Haiti.

Underwriters Laboratories today unveiled a new water testing facility in India, the first in that country operated by a third party and dedicated to testing and certifying water quality.

Finally, Dow Chemical showcased its many efforts to apply green chemistry to water-saving solutions, including its support of Global Water Experiment, which puts green chemistry lessons around water into classrooms around the world to educate the next generation of scientists about how technology and science can protect the world's water supplies.

While I've not (yet) seen the idea expressed ad nauseam that "every day is Water Day," the scope and scale of the activities that companies are undertaking or announcing today make the case that at least some significant elements of the world business community are taking water issues as seriously as they have been taking sustainability issues as a whole.

If there are notable campaigns that we missed (and of course there are), please let us know in the comments below, or by email to [email protected].

Wave photo CC-licensed by Davide Restivo.

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