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As Water Week Kicks Off, Corporate Leaders Share Their Successes

As Water Week Kicks Off, Corporate Leaders Share Their Successes

Image CC licensed by Flickr user *clairity*

Over the coming decades, the bulk of the world's predicted population growth is going to take place in urban areas that will serve as hotbeds for economic activity and innovation. Some estimate that just the world's city-dwelling population of 2050 will equal the entire global population of today.

Such rapid growth will of course strain natural resources and infrastructure, making it vital that the world's governments and companies make investments now that will pay dividends later.

This is the context that will serve as the backdrop of World Water Week, the annual event kicked off yesterday by the Stockholm International Water Institute. Experts from the civil, government and business sectors will meet to discuss the complexities surrounding water, including scarcity, sanitation, economics and ecosystems, among others. Expect a slew of studies and announcements to surface this week from the event, including an interesting story I'll bring to you on Wednesday about the research conducted by a major beverage company of the watersheds surrounding some of its facilities. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, we've turned to some of the leading water experts in the business world to hear about how they are taking steps to reduce their companies' water footprints. The sheer scale of the water savings is impressive: Intel recycled 2 billion gallon of water last year, for example, while a simple process change may save as much as 16 million gallons of water at the average MillerCoors brewery.

These stories remind us that the opportunities to save water are both large and small. Do you have a great water-saving story from your company? We'd love to hear about it in the comments below.

Tom Cooper - IntelTom Cooper, Intel, Worldwide Water Program Manager

Since 1998, Intel has invested more than $100 million in water conservation programs at its global facilities. To date, the company’s comprehensive and aggressive efforts have saved nearly 40 billion gallons of water -- enough for roughly 370,000 U.S. homes for an entire year. Intel estimates that it takes 16 gallons of water to produce a single chip; by comparison, producing one pair of jeans takes 2,900 gallons, one hamburger takes 634 gallons, and one cup of tea takes 9 gallons.

Over time, the company has improved the efficiency of the process used to create the ultra-pure water (UPW) required to clean silicon wafers during fabrication. In the past, almost 2 gallons of water was needed to make 1 gallon of UPW, but today 1 gallon of UPW can be made from between 1.25 and 1.5 gallons of water. After UPW is used to clean wafers, the water is suitable for industrial purposes, irrigation, and many other needs. With this reuse strategy, Intel harvests as much water from its manufacturing processes as possible and directs it to equipment such as cooling towers and scrubbers. In 2010, Intel internally recycled approximately 2 billion gallons of water.

Neil HawkinsNeil Hawkins, Dow Chemical Company, Vice President, Sustainability & EH&S

Dow’s facility in Terneuzen, Netherlands, is the company’s second largest manufacturing site globally and, since February 2007, the site has been reusing municipal household wastewater to help preserve community water supplies and reduce demand for desalinated water in a water-stressed region.

Every day, Dow takes 2.6 million gallons of municipal wastewater and applies reverse osmosis technology to reuse the water twice. More than 70 percent of the wastewater is reused in manufacturing plants, and then used again in cooling towers before it is released into the atmosphere as steam. This purification process requires half the chemical treatment and 65 percent less energy than desalinating the same amount of sea water, and the energy savings are equivalent to lowering carbon dioxide emissions by 5,000 tons per year.

Michael KoboriMichael Kobori, Levi Strauss & Co., Vice President, Social and Environmental Sustainability

As a company, Levi Strauss & Co. is working to build sustainability into everything we do, including reducing the water used throughout the lifecycle of our products. Based on our research, we know that we can reduce the most water by focusing on more sustainable cotton farming and by educating consumers about how they care for their products after they take them home.

We also wanted to make sure we are doing our part to reduce water in the part of the supply chain where we have more direct influence. Our Levi's ® brand designers challenged themselves to reduce the amount of water used during the finishing process for a pair of jeans from an average of 42 liters of water to as little as 1.5 liters. The result was the Water<Less collection, jeans with great style but made using significantly less water. We're expanding our Water<Less collection to even more styles and products around the world this Fall.

Kim MarottaKim Marotta, MillerCoors, Vice President, Corporate Social Responsibility

Water efficiency is critical to our business, and we are focused on working towards our 2015 goal of reducing overall water usage by 15 percent. We're testing new innovations in our breweries to not only reduce water usage, but in some cases, replace water-based processes completely.

We recently conducted a trial of ionic air rinser technology at our Albany, Ga., brewery that uses ionized air to neutralize the charge on aluminum cans and remove any dust particles as they pass through the rinser. This is typically a water-intensive process, and has the potential to reduce water use by as much as 4 million gallons per filling line each year. The scale has great potential, as each MillerCoors brewery, on average, has at least four can lines. The pilot was successful and is still continuing. We're currently evaluating the ROI and the possibility of making the capital improvements needed to roll this out at other breweries, particularly those in water-scarce or stressed regions.

Daniel NavaresseDaniel Navaresse, Anheuser-Busch, Global Director, Energy and Fluids

In 2010 we set ourselves an ambitious water reduction goal of using 3.5 liters of water to make one liter of beer by the end of 2012. We are already making sound progress toward this target. Our success so far is based not on one big innovation or major investment, but on a system-wide approach that relies on integrating sustainability into the DNA of our management philosophy, not just on technology upgrades. Colleagues around our business -- both inside and outside our breweries -- share measurable, aggressive water conservation targets linked to their individual rewards, helping every employee understand the importance of sustainability to their community and to our success as a business.

We use the strength of Voyager Plant Optimization, our standardized global brewery management system, as a vehicle to identify and multiply best operating practices. These best practices range from simple fixes, like reducing the size of nozzles in bottle washers or cleaning hoses, to upgrades in automatic cleaning systems or the installation of larger water recovery systems. As a result of deploying this strategy, we have reduced our global water usage by 6 percent in 2010 and by more than 19 percent since 2007, saving the equivalent of nearly 16,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools over three years.

Cindy OrtegaCindy Ortega, MGM Resorts International, Senior Vice President, Energy and Environmental Services

Being based in Las Vegas, MGM Resorts International is acutely aware of its responsibility to minimize its use of water. We take a comprehensive approach to this challenge, and look for innovative ways to reduce our consumption. Innovations can be as small as changing the way our resorts thaw frozen foods, which avoids the use of running water and saves millions of gallons of water per year. Our largest and proudest accomplishment is the ingenuity and intelligence demonstrated by incorporating water conservation into the heart of the design of CityCenter, the world's largest LEED Gold-certified mixed-use development.

From advanced irrigation technologies, to drought tolerant landscaping, to working with vendors and designing fixtures that meet the needs of both our guests and the environment, water conservation is incorporated into every facet of CityCenter.  And it is done in a way that allows us to achieve the luxury feel expected from a world-class hotel, while saving over 95 million gallons of water per year from what a typical resort would use.

Jeff SeabrightJeff Seabright, The Coca-Cola Company, Vice President of Environment and Water Resources

At Coca-Cola, we aim to maintain a water sustainable business on a global scale, so we developed and implemented a water stewardship strategy, with a global goal to safely return to nature and to communities an amount of water equivalent to what we use in our beverages and their production by 2020.

One of the ways we are working to meet this goal is by replenishing or offsetting the water used in our finished beverages by participating in locally relevant water projects. Since 2005, with respected partners like WWF and USAID, Coca-Cola has engaged in more than 320 water projects in 86 countries.  Projects have focused on watershed protection and conservation, expanding community drinking water and sanitation access, and improving water for productive use.  

Andy WalesAndy Wales, SABMiller, Head of Sustainable Development

At its Rochees brewery in the water-stressed Alwar district in Rajasthan, SABMiller India is working to protect the water supply for the brewery and local farmers. The region has traditionally suffered from over-extraction and poor water management, which has resulted in a significant drop in the aquifer level, posing serious risks to both SABMiller India and the livelihoods of local communities.

In response, SABMiller India worked with local partners to construct four water recharge dams to prevent excessive water run-off and facilitate the natural water replenishment of the groundwater. Since their construction, it is estimated that there has been a net rise of the groundwater by 31 feet, representing almost as much water as was extracted last year by the brewery. Additionally, SABMiller helped local farmers reduce their water use by establishing demonstration fields in 10 local villages to showcase water-efficient irrigation techniques and crops to plant. Farmers that took on the improved plant varieties have decreased their water usage and improved their incomes by as much as 147 percent.