Is Water the New Carbon?: State of Green Business Panel Discussion

Is Water the New Carbon?: State of Green Business Panel Discussion

What are leading corporations doing to reduce water use and address the impending water crisis? In the second panel of the day, green business leaders discuss water issues, moderated by John Davies, VP of GreenBiz Intelligence for Greener World Media.

Michael Kobori, VP of Supply Chain Social and Environmental Sustainability for Levi Strauss described the lifecycle assessment that Levi's has undergone to assess the water footprint of its core products. One pair of 501 jeans uses 3,480 liters of water (or about 920 gallons); 49% is used in cotton growing, 45% in home laundering and just 5% in milling and manufacturing, which Levi's directly controls. Kobori noted that while they control a small fraction of water use, the company is addressing the consumer portion of consumption. "We've changed the care label in the jeans to 'wash in cold water and tumble dry.'" And Levi's is working with Proctor and Gamble's coldwater Tide on in-store advertising in Wal-Mart stores which encourages consumer to wash less and use cold water.

Al Halvorsen, Director of Environmental Sustainability with Frito-Lay (part of PepsiCo) harped on his firm's efforts to reduce water use by 50% per pound of product starting with the creation of an internal corporate Department of Energy in 1999. "We are trying to take existing plants as far off the water grid as possible," Halvorsen noted, by filtering and recapturing water. They are also reaching out to suppliers and packers, requesting they commit to the same water reduction goals as Frito-Lay.

Meanwhile, Jason Morrison, Director of Economic Globalization and the Environment Program at the Pacific Institute drew applause with a realistic take: "You can't think about just the cost for business of water, you need to think more holistically about the implications." Morrison noted that an amazing number of Fortune 500 companies don't understand their full impact (present company not included). The Pacific Institute published a report with BSR (Business for Social Responsibility) offering a framework for understanding water issues.

Morrison closed the panel highlighting the need for education around water issues. While companies can't be expected to educate the public, they have the opportunity to. He described the CEO Mandate he is involved with, which was written 1 year ago, and encourages companies to address water as a strategic initiative. We'll need to align our use of water with the reality of the situation, bringing our lifestyles into balance with the availability of water, Morrison advised.