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Ronnie Cohen’s Blog

Follow the Leader: Thoughts on Water Efficiency From the World Water Forum

Ronnie Cohen

Posted March 17, 2009

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While California is often thought of as trendy and cutting edge, sometimes you have to get out of town, way out of town, for some fresh perspective.  So I find myself at the 5th World Water Forum, in Istanbul, Turkey. For more news on the main conference, you can check out the blog of my NRDC colleague, Melanie Nakagawa.

I came to Istanbul to participate in the CEO Water Mandate, a UN Global Compact initiative designed to help the private sector better understand and address its impacts on and management of water resources. The focus of this meeting is Engaging in Public Policy to Advance Sustainable Water Management by Business.

There are some widespread areas of agreement, including the need for better information about river basins and water use, and more transparency by business, as well as the need to address agricultural water use.  There are also some inspiring examples of improvements in water efficiency by some companies, and impressive commitments to additional improvements in the near term. For example:

  • SAB Miller has committed to reducing its water use 25% by 2015.
  • 2/3 of Unilever sites in India recycle all of their processing water for reuse in manufacturing or on-site irrigation, and globally, Unilever has decreased their water use per ton of production by 60% since 1995. 
  • Coca-Cola reduced its water use per liter of beverage 20% by 2002 and has committed to reducing it an additional 20% by 2012.

While some of these companies may be criticized in other areas, they have reported notable progress on water efficiency.

NRDC recently completed an issue paper on the tremendous opportunities for water efficiency by business and industry in California. Yet for some reason, some water agencies and businesses in the state object to setting more modest goals with a longer time horizon, as proposed by AB 49 (Feuer-Huffman). This bill would require a 20 percent per capita reduction in urban water use by 2020 and require best management practices for agricultural water use.

Urban agencies and the business community should support this bill, to strengthen California's economy and environment, and to reduce water-related business risks. Otherwise, California will soon have to play follow the leader on water efficiency issues. 

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