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Purple Pipes - New Ideas in Water Conservation

Stashed in: Ecology!, Vegas, Baby!, Awesome, Water!, Coca Cola, Ecology, Freakonomics

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Long but hopeful read about how businesses can innovate in water conservation... IF they think correctly about water as a resource.

Yes! I liked the story of water shower heads in Vegas. 

But my favorite story was Coca Cola:

Coca-Cola, whose reputation has been doubly stung by controversy over its withdrawals of groundwater in India and by a backlash against its growing Dasani and Glacéau bottled–vitamin water business, has vowed, in the words of CEO Muhtar Kent, that by 2020 Coke will become “the first major global corporation where we will be water neutral.”

Almost all of Coke’s products end up as pee—Coke’s customers don’t need more than a few hours to close the loop in the water cycle on the soft drinks and water they consume—and it’s not quite clear what a “water neutral” Coca-Cola will look like. But the company is gathering, analyzing, and revealing cascades of water data.

Coke says that every liter of beverage it manufactures and sells requires 2.16 liters of water—one liter for the drink and an additional 1.16 liters of manufacturing, cleaning, and process water. The good news is that, unlike Intel, this represents a 19 percent improvement over 2004. Between 2004 and 2012, Coke cut the amount of process water per liter of drink by 17 ounces. When you multiply that by Coke’s relentless popularity—the company serves up 67 million drinks per hour—it has a dramatic impact. Coke’s improved water efficiency saved 17 billion gallons of water in 2012.

This kind of water reporting is amazing because it’s totally voluntary; it’s all new; and it is, quite literally, a window on the future.

In Coke’s 2002 annual report, there is a typical section on Coke’s business operations. Under the heading “Raw Materials,” the first sentence is: “The principal raw material used by our Company’s business . . . is high-fructose corn syrup, a form of sugar.” In Coke’s 2009 annual 10-K filing, the “Raw Materials” section begins this way: “Water is a main ingredient in substantially all our products . . . and our Company recognizes water availability, quality, and the sustainability of that natural resource for both our operations and also the communities where we operate as one of the key challenges facing our business.”

This water focus isn’t trendy green consciousness or corporate altruism, although in the case of Coke, it is vitally important PR. It’s business. And in this instance, business is actually ahead of politics and ahead of popular awareness. When four such different businesses, in such different geographies and lines of work, all agree that a major shift is under way in something as basic as our relationship to water; when they don’t just agree, but change their behavior: that’s something the rest of us should pay attention to.

I wonder if they take into account the amount of water sugarcane needs to grow as a crop in their water neutral calculations, or the 20% of water they need to add to extract it.


Also, San Diego is leading the way with purple piping.  They passed a law last year that all new construction has to have dual piping. 

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