Sustainablog

This blog will cover some news items related to Sustainability: Corporate Social Responsibility, Stewardship, Environmental management, etc.

20.2.09

Currents -- Environment: Yet Another 'Footprint' to Worry About: Water --- Taking a Cue From Carbon Tracking, Companies and Conservationists Tally Hidden Sources of Consumption

 

Currents -- Environment: Yet Another 'Footprint' to Worry About: Water --- Taking a Cue From Carbon Tracking, Companies and Conservationists Tally Hidden Sources of Consumption
By Alexandra Alter 
1,553 mots 
17 février 2009
The Wall Street Journal
A11
Anglais
(Copyright (c) 2009, Dow Jones & Company, Inc.) 

It takes roughly 20 gallons of water to make a pint of beer, as much as 132 gallons of water to make a 2-liter bottle of soda, and about 500 gallons, including water used to grow, dye and process the cotton, to make a pair of Levi's stonewashed jeans.

Though much of that water is replenished through natural cycles, a handful of companies have started tracking such "water footprints" as a growing threat of fresh-water shortages looms. Some are measuring not just the water used to make beverages and cool factories, but also the gallons used to grow ingredients such as cotton, sugar, wheat, tea and tomatoes. The drive, modeled partly on carbon footprinting, a widely used measurement of carbon-dioxide emissions, comes as groundwater reserves are being depleted and polluted at unsustainable rates in many regions. Climate change has caused glaciers to shrink, eroding vital sources of fresh water. And growing global demand for food and energy is placing even more pressure on diminishing supplies.

Two-thirds of the world's population is projected to face water scarcity by 2025, according to the United Nations. In the U.S., water managers in 36 states anticipate shortages by 2013, a General Accounting Office report shows. Last year, Georgia lawmakers tried, unsuccessfully, to move the state's border north so that Georgia could claim part of the Tennessee River.

Lately, water footprinting has gained currency among corporations seeking to protect their agricultural supply chains and factory operations from future water scarcity. Next week, representatives from about 100 companies, including Nike Inc., PepsiCo Inc., Levi Strauss & Co. and Starbucks Corp., will gather in Miami for a summit on calculating and shrinking corporate water footprints. In December, a coalition of scientists, companies and development agencies launched the Water Footprint Network, an international nonprofit that helps corporations and governments measure and manage their water footprints.

The water-footprint concept was coined in 2002 by Arjen Hoekstra, a professor of water management at University of Twente in the Netherlands. Using data from the U.N.'s Food and Agricultural Organization, Mr. Hoekstra and other researchers gauged the water content that went into the making of various products and applied those statistics to people's consumption patterns to get a rough water footprint for average individuals and nations as a whole.

A new wave of research on "virtual," or embedded, water has given companies and governments new tools to track not just the water that they consume directly, but also the gallons that are embedded in everything from dishwashing detergent and Argentine beef to Spanish oranges and cotton grown in Pakistan. A cup of coffee takes roughly 35 gallons. A cotton T-shirt typically takes some 700 gallons of water to produce. A typical hamburger takes 630 gallons of water to produce -- more than three times the amount the average American uses every day for drinking, bathing, washing dishes and flushing toilets. The bulk is used to grow grain for cattle feed.

A large water footprint isn't necessarily bad if the product is made in an area where water is plentiful and well managed. Almost all of the water that goes into crops and food production is returned to the water cycle, either as evaporated water or in the form of polluted runoff. But it is temporarily unavailable for other uses, and may not be restored to the same aquifer, lake or river if it comes back as rainfall in another region. That poses problems for water-scarce areas.

Some experts doubt the accuracy and usefulness of water footprints, which vary depending on where and how products are made. Oranges grown in Brazil might have a higher water footprint than oranges from Spain, but the Brazilian orange might be a better choice because of the country's rainy climate. "It's a hard thing to calculate," says Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute, an Oakland, Calif., environmental group. "Beef grown in the Eastern U.S. has different water use than beef grown in Illinois."

Tallying the water footprints of manufactured goods can be tenuous since there are no clear standards for what a water footprint should measure. Some companies measure just water used in factory operations; others count the gallons used to grow ingredients in their supply chains, and still others take stock of water that consumers use to wash clothes or dishes with their products. Coca-Cola Co.'s bottling factories use a little over a gallon of water to make a 2-liter bottle of soda. But that figure surges to as high as 132 gallons of water per 2-liter bottle of soda if you add the water used to grow ingredients such as sugar cane, according to an estimate provided to the company by the World Wildlife Fund. A Coca-Cola spokeswoman said the water-footprint figure is preliminary and may change as the methodology improves.

"When you try to reduce a complex subject into a single number, the methodology is so inconsistent and unreliable that it's fraught with the possibility of manipulation and misinformation," says Wayne Balta, vice president of corporate environmental affairs and product safety for International Business Machines Corp.

For many food and beverage companies, calculating water use isn't just an attempt at an eco-friendly makeover. It's a matter of self-interest. A Coca-Cola bottling plant was shuttered in south India in 2004 after residents claimed the company was depleting and polluting local water supplies. SABMiller PLC -- whose brands include Miller Lite, Peroni and Pilsner Urquell -- invested in water-purification technology for its factory in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, where the overuse of groundwater by various industries has caused fresh aquifers to grow increasingly salty. The city's drinking water supply is sufficient for only a third of its three million residents, water aid groups say.

SABMiller's executives started to worry about the company's water footprint in August 2007. The World Business Council for Sustainable Development had just released its online "global water tool," which allows companies to enter the GPS coordinates of their factory sites in order to identify hot spots where water scarcity overlaps with factory operations or agricultural supply chains. The results were alarming: About 30 of the company's sites, including factories in South Africa, India and Peru, were shown to be vulnerable to future water shortages, says Andy Wales, SABMiller's director of sustainable development.

The company decided to tackle its water footprint in South Africa -- a water-scarce country where more than five million people lack access to safe drinking water -- with hopes of replicating the project elsewhere. South Africa breweries produce 17% of SABMiller's beer. The company hired the environmental consultancy URS Corp. to trace how much water was used in everything from growing hops to rinsing bottles before recycling them, and brought on the World Wildlife Fund as an independent adviser.

The study, completed in October, showed that 95% of the company's water footprint goes toward growing agricultural ingredients. The water used to grow barley, maize and hops, as well as what is used in factories, added up to about 155 liters of water, or 41 gallons, per liter of beer.

The findings led SABMiller to focus on water-scarce regions, including Gouritz -- a coastal area where SABMiller's suppliers grow hops, barley and other ingredients and where water supplies are diminishing. SABMiller is examining more-efficient irrigation technology for its sugar and barley farms there.

Conservationists are divided over whether water footprinting will translate into meaningful conservation efforts. "Footprinting has its place, but it's not a panacea," says Nick Hepworth, director of Water Witness International, a nonprofit advocacy organization. Companies may feel better by calculating their water footprints, says Mr. Hepworth, "but at the end of the day there's still a need for an objective audit."

Despite the challenges involved, water footprinting is poised to grow. Unilever PLC, which owns 400 food and household brands, estimates that it saved about $26 million by reducing water waste in its factories from 2001 to 2007. Recently, the company has started reducing water used to grow ingredients for its Lipton Tea and Ragu tomato sauce by using drip irrigation to grow black tea in Tanzania and tomatoes in California. Such efforts stand to have a significant impact: Unilever buys 7% of the world's tomatoes, and 12% of the world's commercial black tea.

Water-management experts have started to build models for "water offset" projects so that beverage companies and other heavy water users can soften their impact by funding water sanitation and conservation projects. PepsiCo recently piloted a program to help rice farmers cultivating 4,000 acres in India switch from flood irrigation to direct seeding, a planting method that requires less water and makes crops more resilient to drought.

"Three billion more people are going to be on this planet [by 2050]," says Stuart Orr, manager of the Freshwater Footprint Project for the World Wildlife Fund. "Somehow, we're going to have to use the same amount of water we use today."


18.2.09

you have to be kidding me

Drug giant GlaxoSmithKline pledges cheap medicine for worl



guardian.co.uk home



Drug giant GlaxoSmithKline pledges cheap medicine for world's poor
Head of GSK shocks industry with challenge to other 'big pharma' companies
Sarah Boseley, health editor
guardian.co.uk, Friday 13 February 2009 21.44 GMT
 larger | smaller
Andrew Witty, the GlaxoSmithKline chief executive
Andrew Witty, the GlaxoSmithKline chief executive. Photograph: Linda Nylind/Guardian
The world's second biggest pharmaceutical company is to radically shift its attitude to providing cheap drugs to millions of people in the developing world.
In a major change of strategy, the new head of GlaxoSmithKline, Andrew Witty, has told the Guardian he will slash prices on all medicines in the poorest countries, give back profits to be spent on hospitals and clinics and – most ground-breaking of all – share knowledge about potential drugs that are currently protected by patents.
Witty says he believes drug companies have an obligation to help the poor get treatment. He challenges other pharmaceutical giants to follow his lead.
Pressure on the industry has been growing over the past decade, triggered by the Aids catastrophe.
Drug companies have been repeatedly criticised for failing to drop their prices for HIV drugs while millions died in Africa and Asia. Since then, campaigners have targeted them for defending the patents, which keep their prices high, while attempting to crush competition from generic manufacturers, who undercut them dramatically in countries where patents do not apply.
The reputation of the industry suffered a further damaging blow with the publication and film of John le Carré's book The Constant Gardener, which depicted drug companies as uncaring and corrupt.
But speaking to the Guardian, Witty pledged significant changes to the way the drug giant does business in the developing world.
He said that GSK will:
• Cut its prices for all drugs in the 50 least developed countries to no more than 25% of the levels in the UK and US – and less if possible – and make drugs more affordable in middle- income countries such as Brazil and India.
• Put any chemicals or processes over which it has intellectual property rights that are relevant to finding drugs for neglected diseases into a "patent pool", so they can be explored by other researchers.
• Reinvest 20% of any profits it makes in the least developed countries in hospitals, clinics and staff.
• Invite scientists from other companies, NGOs or governments to join the hunt for tropical disease treatments at its dedicated institute at Tres Cantos, Spain.
The extent of the changes Witty is setting in train is likely to stun drug company critics and other pharmaceutical companies, who risk being left exposed. Campaigners privately say the move is remarkable, although they worry that it may undermine the generics industry which currently supplies the cheapest drugs in poor countries.
Witty accepts that his stance may not win him friends in other drug companies, but he is inviting them to join him in an attempt to make a significant difference to the health of people in poor countries.
"We work like crazy to come up with the next great medicine, knowing that it's likely to get used an awful lot in developed countries, but we could do something for developing countries. Are we working as hard on that? I want to be able to say yes we are, and that's what this is all about – trying to make sure we are even-handed in terms of our efforts to find solutions not just for developed but for developing countries," he said.
"I think the shareholders understand this and it's my job to make sure I can explain it. I think we can. I think it's absolutely the kind of thing large global companies need to be demonstrating, that they've got a more balanced view of the world than short-term returns."
The move on intellectual property, until now regarded as the sacred cow of the pharmaceutical industry, will be seen as the most radical of his proposals. "I think it's the first time anybody's really come out and said we're prepared to start talking to people about pooling our patents to try to facilitate innovation in areas where, so far, there hasn't been much progress," he said. "I can't tell you how many speeches I've heard about – oh, you know – 'I wish we could make progress on TB' or 'Why haven't we got treatments for these things?' We all sit there saying well yes, it's terrible isn't it, instead of actually trying to do something about it. So … what I really hope this does is stimulate people to start engaging with us, and maybe other people to say look, actually, if you did it this way it could really work.
"Some people might be surprised it's coming from a pharma company. Obviously people see us as very defensive of intellectual property, quite rightly, and we will be, but in this area of neglected diseases we just think this is a place where we can kind of carve out a space and see whether or not we can stimulate a different behaviour." He is aware that others in the pharmaceutical industry may accuse him of selling the family silver. Some people, he said, "are going to hate this". But he added: "I do think that many CEOs of many companies do worry about this issue and do have it in their minds and who knows, maybe somebody has to move before many people move. Equally I could imagine getting a phone call saying 'What are you doing?'"
Campaigners gave a cautious welcome to GSK's strategy. But Oxfam and Médecins Sans Frontières both said the company should go further and include HIV drugs in the patent pool, and warned that generics companies have always been able to offer lower prices than big pharma, because of their lower production costs.
"He is breaking the mould in validating the concept of patent pools," said Rohit Malpani who runs Oxfam's access to medicines campaign. "That has been out there as an idea and no company has done anything about it. It is a big step forward. It is welcome that he is inviting other companies to take this on and have a race to the top instead of a race to the bottom."
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2009