Interview: How Water Became the New Focus of Corporate Sustainability — Water Deeply

Graphic credit: International Facility Management Association.

Here’s an interview with Kellen Klein from Matt Weiser that’s running in Water Deeply. Click through and read the whole thing. Here’s an excerpt:

Water crises in the West have pushed some companies to apply sustainability labels to their beverages, clothes and other water-dependent products. Kellen Klein, a senior manager at Future 500, helps sort through the claims.

CAN A WATER-DEPENDENT PRODUCT – beer, for example – achieve sustainability in its water use? And how should we evaluate such a claim?

Chronic water scarcity in the West has prompted a surge in examples of this kind of marketing. Companies that rely heavily on water have begun to test various “green” marketing strategies, just as companies have long attached sustainability goals to the air pollution they cause or the habitat they impact.

Beverage companies are claiming they’ve reduced their water consumption, neutralized it somehow, or even achieved some kind of net benefit in water supply through various kinds of watershed enhancement projects. Some are experimenting with using recycled wastewater in their products.

What is the right path for companies interested in these efforts? How should consumers react to these claims? Is it even possible to achieve sustainability in a water-dependent product?

To explore these questions, Water Deeply recently spoke with Kellen Klein, a senior manager at Future 500, a nonprofit consultancy that works to find common ground between corporations and environmental groups to solve global problems. Klein, based in Portland, Oregon, focuses on water sustainability issues, among other specialties…

Water Deeply: Can you share some early examples of this in the corporate world?

Klein: One that initially comes to mind is Coca-Cola [disclosure: Klein has worked on projects with Coca-Cola]. They made this pretty dramatic goal to replenish the water that goes into their bottles. They reached that goal three or four years ahead of time. And that has become a prominent communications point for them when marketing their products at a broader level.

Another going on for a while now is Levi’s, the maker of jeans and other clothing.Levi’s looked at the life cycle of their jeans; the most prominent use of water comes from producing cotton, but also a ton of water is used in the washing of their clothes. So they said, hey, this is a great opportunity for consumer engagement, and we need to take some action and do some education here. So they started an education program (Water-Less) to encourage consumers to wash their jeans on a cold setting, and to not wash them as often as a way of conserving water and energy.

One example of a company struggling with these types of positive commitments is Fiji Water. They claimed they were carbon negative, because their investment in carbon reductions were so significant. It turns out a lot of those projects were actually carbon futures that would not pull carbon out of the atmosphere for years down the road, and they ended up being sued over that.

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