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Can ‘water footprinting’ help cut the 500 liters of H2O needed to produce a carton of OJ?

Carbon trading promotes good behavior by creating a standardized currency representing a verifiable environmental benefit. Payments for watershed services do the same for cutbacks in water pollution, albeit on a smaller scale. Now, the Nature Conservancy and the Coca-Cola Company are experimenting with a new method of “water footprinting” that could do the same for total water use – a key component in the development of a market-based scheme that would promote responsible water usage.

Anyone who’s ever squeezed a whole bag of oranges into a single glass of juice knows (at least intuitively) that a whole lot of water goes into that one little refreshing gulp – but would you believe 518 liters of water for just one carton of juice?

That’s the low-ball figure that the Coca-Cola Company and The Nature Conservancy (TNC) came up with after carrying out a “water footprinting” exercise on the company’s orange juice supply chain. The figure takes into account the water pulled from the ground and sky to grow the oranges, the water pulled from pipes to make the bottles, all the water used in transporting the product, and the clean water contaminated by the whole process.

Environmental groups like TNC can use this information to monitor corporate impact on the environment, and companies like Coca-Cola can utilize it to measure both their liability and total water needs. That’s why the two teamed up, applying methods outlined in The Water Footprint Organization’s Water Footprint Manual and its “footprint calculator” to two Coca-Cola products (orange juice and Coke) and one key ingredient (sugar from sugar beets).

Beyond these simple steps, how can we utilize this tool? Ecosystem Marketplace dug a little deeper during World Water Week: Can We Stomp out Water Waste?

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