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WAE | Logo
12 Apr
2021
Environment
By WAE on "Environment"

Water Neutrality—Is it truly possible?

As individuals and as a community, we need to be aware of the concept of being ‘water neutral’ and the meaning of the term ‘water footprint’. Then people will be more careful in their day-to-day lives and try to minimize wastage of water. Informed choices made by individuals while buying food or other commodities can make a huge difference.

Full Article

By - Papiya Mahanti

 Is it really possible for a company to completely eliminate water footprint?

The problem arises due to the way people understand and interpret water footprint. Also, there is a certain degree of ambiguity regarding what the company means when it says that - it aims to achieve ‘water neutrality’.

If a company claims that it is water neutral, what people understand is that the company will return the same amount of water to the source from which it is taken. This is certainly not possible.

So, perhaps it is a good idea to word it differently. It may be better for a company’s brand image if it simply says that the company is making efforts to use water judiciously and recycle and reuse water as much as possible. They are aware of their social responsibility and are trying to do their best to help avert the grim situation that experts are predicting. They are predicting that by 2025 half of the human population will face acute water shortage.

As individuals and as a community, we need to be aware of the concept of being ‘water neutral’ and the meaning of the term ‘water footprint’.  Then people will be more careful in their day-to-day lives and try to minimize wastage of water. Informed choices made by individuals while buying food or other commodities can make a huge difference.

 ‘Water neutrality’ is a fairly new concept. The expression ‘water neutral’ was first used at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in 2002. It was coined by South African Businessman Pancho Ndebele. It simply means that we give back each drop of water that we use.

 ‘Water footprint’ is the amount of water used to produce each of the goods and services we use. It can tell us the total amount of water used by an individual or a company, or even a country as a whole. The concept of water footprint forced people to think more deeply and critically about water usage. Hoekstra formulated this method of calculation. Individuals and corporates should do everything that is reasonably possible to reduce their water footprint.

 Coca-Cola was widely criticized for its water practices in the mid-2000s. The company kept the distribution cost low by tapping local water sources. Indian farmers accused the company of stealing their water and their livelihood. Coca-Cola’s brand image was badly hit. E. Neville Isdell, the company’s CEO, said that his company pledges to replace ‘every drop’ of water they use in their beverages and their production to achieve balance in communities and in nature. He further added that they would strive to make coke’s operations ‘water neutral’ by the year 2020.

The confusion arises because when the company says ‘every drop’, it is including only the amount that goes into the bottle. The company is not including the water in its supply chain. For example, it does not include the water that is used in growing the sugar crop. Also, the amount of water that is required to produce the other ingredients or to produce the plastic bottles or aluminum cans in which it is packaged is not included. Actually, the water used in production is a tiny percentage of the total water footprint. On assessment, it was found that it took 35 liters of water to make every half liter of Coke. Out of these 35 liters, approximately 28 liters were used to grow the sugar crop to sweeten the beverage. About 7 liters went into making the PET plastic bottle, and only 0.4 liters were used in the bottling plants to manufacture each half-liter of the product. So everything depends on how ‘every drop’ and ‘water neutral’ are defined.

Some companies like coca cola have tried to claim that they are striving towards water neutrality. It is fair enough if a company says it has been trying to conserve and recycle water or trying to minimize wastage, but if it claims that it is giving back each drop or striving to do so, then there is undoubtedly a problem with the way it is calculating ‘water footprint.’ That is what being ‘water neutral’ means. It means giving back each drop of water that one takes.

 It is impossible to be truly ‘water neutral’ as no organization can truly eliminate its ‘water footprint'. A company can undoubtedly improve the way it uses water or recycles or reuses the resources available. If a company makes such claims, it is pretty misleading, and in a way, it is violating the trust of its consumers, the community, and fellow human beings. Such misleading claims might affect the company’s brand image - as it happened in case of Coca-Cola. The fact is, the company was to a great extent successful in reducing its water use and did make considerable efforts in the direction.

 Even if achieving water neutrality may not be practically possible, we must strive to achieve that ideal state - where we give back every drop of water we use - every step we take towards that goal is significant.

 

“It’s time to care before the water is rare”

– The Dharma Trails

END



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