Water is the new carbon

Water poured into a measuring glass.

TEXT OF STORY

Renita Jablonski: Sunday is World Water Day. With droughts hitting many parts of the world, water conservation is a hot topic. Some companies are trying to get ahead of the issue by downsizing what they call their "water footprints." From the Marketplace Sustainability Desk, Caitlan Carroll explains.


Caitlan Carroll: Companies used to talk about carbon footprints. You know, measuring how much carbon is emitted when products are made. But as rain fall slows and the Earth heats up, companies have started worrying about water, too. That's where water footprints come in.

Dan Esty: You can't manage what you don't measure, and that's the fundamental logic here for getting people focused on their water footprints.

Dan Esty is director of Yale's Center for Business and the Environment. He says companies like Coke, Intel, and SAB Miller see water as a risky commodity. Especially as states and cities struggle with how to price it.

Esty: In the United States, we increasingly do have a price for water. And therefore companies are taking it seriously -- especially in the drier parts of the country.

A recent study found more than 100 companies lost millions of dollars when crops died and manufacturing plants closed due to drought. So now companies are using rainwater recycling systems and irrigating fields of cotton, barley and sugar cane with less water -- and gaining some customer goodwill at the same time.

E.J. Bernacki: OK, we're in the Levi's store, and here we have the straight legs, we have boot-cut jeans . . .

At Levi's flagship store in San Francisco, Levis rep E.J. Bernacki wades through piles of jeans. The company recently took the water footprint of one pair

.

Bernacki: Here's the medium stonewashed 501, and this is the jean that we did the lifecycle assessment on.

Levis found the jeans gulped up more than 900 gallons of water, from the cotton stage all the way to when the customer is done with the pair. About half the water came from cotton farming, and 45 percent was used by consumers -- basically lost to the laundry cycle.

Since then, the company's cut its own water use by 30 percent in the last year, using different finishing techniques on the fabric and recycling old denim into new jeans. And now, it's turned the public's push for better practices on them.

Bernacki Wash only when it's absolutely necessary. It's better for the environment and it's also much better for the jeans.

Levis is telling customers that washing is wasting.

I'm Caitlan Carroll for Marketplace.

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