“Water- a bequest of nature” bases all innovations in curbing water crisis to make our blue planet green and sustainable.
In November 2007, Coca-Cola, after pledging for water neutrality, released a concept paper alongside with World Business council for Sustainable Development, World Wide Fund for Nature, UNESCO IHE and Envelo Group against this background. It stated:
“In a strict sense, the term ‘water neutral’ is troublesome and even may be misleading. It is often possible to reduce a water footprint, but it is generally impossible to bring it down to zero”
Organizations that strive to be water positive are trumpeting about water neutrality like anything! Water neutrality is not some lofty phrase that can be loosely used metonymously to water conservation. It has become an umbrella term which delineates water footprint reduction, water quality, water availability, sustainable water extraction over and above water preservation.
Water neutrality, based on its carbon equivalent, was first coined by Pancho Ndebele during the Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002. Like carbon neutrality, the crux of this concept is to empower individuals and corporates to reduce the water footprint of an activity as much as possible and offset the negative externalities of the remaining water footprint. But is this possible in actuality?
A company with all its resources and technologies can taper its water footprint but cannot knock it down to zilch. Extracting water from one basin and neutralizing it by water saving or pollution control in some other region, does not exactly redress the balance.
“In that sense, organizations and individuals can never become water neutral.”
Water neutrality in its true sense, involves individuals and companies to draw out strategies that will make them water sustainable by negating the negative economic, social and environmental externalities as much as reasonably possible and redressing the residual water footprint by rationally investing in more sustainable and equitable methods and technologies.
The crux of the idea of water neutrality emphases on two main prerequisites in order to reach the goalmouth- reasonably possible and rational investment. All that is reasonably possible should be done to curtail the existing footprint and the residual should be reduced by making a ‘rational investment’ in sustainable projects, strategies and technologies. This investment can either be done in terms of personal efforts or by providing funds to support ideas that furtherance the same framework.
The whole concept of water neutrality revolves around reducing and offsetting the impact of water footprints. But what exactly does a water footprint encompass?
The water footprint family
In straight words, water footprint includes the direct and indirect water use of an individual or an organization. Everything one uses, buys, wears, eats or sells, consumes water in the manufacturing process.
In case of an individual, direct water use would be water consumed in domestic purposes, while indirect would be water used in the production, supply and circulation of the goods and services consumed by that person. For an organization, water footprint of its direct use includes water consumption in the company’s operations like production, manufacturing and supporting activities while indirect involves, water usage in the business’ supply-chain.
Water footprint as a concept had first arisen, after reiterated efforts to tackle water scarcity, in 2003 by Arjen Hoektstra, a connoisseur at the UNESCO-IHE Institute. The concept was further broadened when the Water Footprint Network developed a calculator that could help measure water in terms of its consumption, evaporation and pollution. This splits water footprint into three corresponding categories-
Blue water footprint- Consumptive use of surface or groundwater
Green water footprint- Consumptive use of rainwater
Grey water footprint- consumptive use of fresh water to dilute wastewater in order to maintain the quality.
Organizational footprint calculation
The water footprint of a business is defined as the total volume of freshwater that is used directly or indirectly to run and support the business. According to The Water Footprint Assessment Manual the total water footprint of a business can be schematized into the following components- (including green, blue and grey water footprints)
• Operational Water footprints- volume of freshwater consumed or polluted due to the business’s own operations.
• Overhead operational footprints- water consumption that is necessary for the continued functioning of the business’ operations.
• Supply-chain water footprints- volume of freshwater consumed or polluted to produce all the goods and services that form the inputs of production of the business.
• Overhead supply-chain water footprints- water consumption that is necessary for the continued functioning of the business’ supply chains.
The calculation of the water footprint of a business is done by first reckoning the annual input and output water consumption (in numbers) of different units of the business. Inputs are the resources that are used to make the output or the final product.
Then the operational water footprint and supply chain water footprint of every business unit is estimated separately. The operational water footprint is calculated by adding up the green, blue and grey water footprint.
While, the supply-chain water footprint of every business unit is estimated by coalescing the information on input water consumption in the business with the information on its preliminary water footprint which has to be derived from the supplier.
The total water footprint is then calculated by adding the operational and supply-chain water footprints of every business unit discretely. After this is done, the water footprint for each specific output or final product is estimated by dividing the business unit water footprint by the output volume.
The last step involves gauging the total water footprint of business as a whole by aggregating all the separate water footprints of the business units.
The ‘footprint’ concept was first elaborated by Nicky Chambers and Craig Simmons in 1997 in their instrumental work, “Sharing Nature’s Interest” which pivoted around ecological footprint (the impact of a person or community on the environment). The rationale and methodology of this footprint further expanded to carbon and water.
The carbon footprint enumerates the environmental impact created from energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. Like water footprint, it can be developed for an organization, a value chain, a product, or even an individual. Together, water footprint and carbon footprint assessments can help companies fathom out their dependency on water and energy resources, contribution to water scarcity, water pollution, and climate change from a different angle and will assist them in drawing out strategies to offset the negative externalities which would ultimately help them to be water neutral.
The ultimate aim is to maximize sustainability by combating the real challenges of offsetting water and carbon footprints. As businesses, government and local communities are facing growing challenges due to paucity of resources, it has become imperative to take a holistic approach by pivotally contributing in building up sustainable strategies. Prioritizing where to work, devising response strategies, assessing trade-offs and synergies, developing a holistic approach and taking strategic actions are the five key ingredients to sustainability optimization.
While most companies are taking a greener approach in their spadework to become water neutral, some are simply perpetuating to regulate in their old lucrative ways with least concern about environmental impacts of their businesses. With the fear of disrupting innovation opportunities, leaking out new risks, hindrance in regulatory context and above all financial investment to become sustainable, companies prefer to dodge it in order to avoid these intricacies involved with water neutrality. Even if some of them put efforts in achieving sustainability, it is mostly espoused as a marketing gimmick to enhance the reputation of the business and to procure CSR benefits.
Choosing the source of hydration is a critical aspect to achieve water neutrality but is often flouted by businesses. The past few decades have seen an upsurge in the bottled water sales, as the adequate hydration solution for companies. What organizations don’t comprehend is that choosing this source of hydration, will lead to negative water footprints to say the least.
Bottled water takes around 3 to 5 liters of water to package one bottle of water. Not just this, bottling plants create massive water scarcity in the area of manufacturing. Reports have said that 17 million barrels of oil is consumed every year to manufacture bottled water and this amount of energy used in manufacturing can power upto 190,000 homes!! As if this isn’t enough, water bottling processes release around 2.5 million tons of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, annually! After reading these facts, do you still consider bottled water as your premium choice for hydration?
Encouraging organizations to replace bottled water with sustainable hydration solutions will not only make them water positive but will empower them to reduce global water footprints! Experts in the field of water are coming up with new sustainable and aesthetic alternatives that will not only make them water neutral but carbon neutral too. Effective alternatives like drinking water stations, bottle filling stations, drinking water fountains, atmosphere water generators cut direct and indirect carbon emissions by eliminating the use of fossil-fuel dependent plastic bottle.
These latest hands-free hydration machines have become a critical part of the endeavor to reduce the ‘plastic footprint’. New technologies have been incorporated that slash water rejection upto 20% and recycle 100% water that can be re-used for various purposes! These sustainable hydration technologies lead to zero water footprint in themselves! An investment in comprehensive hydration solution comprise turn key solutions that direct reject water towards non-drinking water applications. To further curb down the footprint, companies can recycle and reuse almost 80 % of their water by installing in-house sewage treatment plants for treating their wastewater further using it, enabling zero water footprints!
Despite the snowballing effect of water crisis, there has been a 50% upsurge in the number of companies with higher water withdrawals. With industrial water consumption gauging to almost 19% of the global water withdrawals, companies need to wrap their heads around this global crisis and need to play their part in protecting this valuable resource. In a world where water scarcity has become ubiquitous, organizations need to shape out strategies in order to ensure their long-term survival.
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