Posts Tagged ‘water’
Blog by Wayne Visser
There are flowers to fit every occasion. But if you are celebrating World Water Week (26-31 August), you might want to think twice. A single rose – grown in Kenya, as many of the world’s cut flowers are – takes around 10 litres of water to produce, with the so-called water footprint, or virtual water export, of Kenya’s floriculture industry having more than doubled over the past 15 years, mostly to supply the Netherlands (69%), the UK (18%) and Germany (7%).
This notion of virtual water – the water embedded in the things that we trade – is gaining visibility as awareness of our global water crisis increases. I remember first getting to grips with the idea a few years ago when I interviewed Fred Pearce, author of When the Rivers Run Dry, for the University of Cambridge Top 50 Sustainability Books project. According to his calculations, to get us through the day, it takes about a hundred times our own weight in water.
Of course, water footprints are not the only impacts we find in our global supply chains. There are issues of labour rights, climate change, transparent governance, biodiversity loss and economic development, to mention but a few. The challenge is to manage and minimise the negative impacts. This is where I believe the example of Kenya’s cut-flower industry can help us to tease out some hard-won lessons, starting with the story behind the Horticultural Ethical Business Initiative (HEBI).
The seeds of the HEBI process were sown in November 1999 when local civil society organisations mounted a successful campaign against workers’ rights violations in Cirio Delmonte, one of Kenya’s largest pineapple growers. The success of this campaign raised concerns in the flower industry, prompting stakeholders to develop the Kenya Standard on Social Accountability and a Voluntary Private Initiative to oversee its implementation.
However, the real impetus for HEBI came from the pressure exerted by transnational alliances of NGOs and consumer groups. The Kenya Women Workers Organisation (KEWWO) was funded by the UK-based Women Working Worldwide (WWW) to gather evidence of the Ethical Trade Initiative Base Code violations. Their report catalogued various unacceptable conditions, from pesticide poisoning to sexual harassment and rape, and spurred a campaign dubbed Produce Safely or Quit. At the same time, the Kenya Human Rights Commission issued a three month ultimatum to flower producers to improve working conditions, failing which they would go international in their campaign.
When the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) was alerted to these serious labour rights violations in 2002, several of their corporate and NGO members visited Kenyan flower producers. In fear of losing their most significant market, Kenyan stakeholders came together for the first time to lay the groundwork for the formation of HEBI. What I find particular interesting is that the Horticultural Ethical Business Initiative (HEBI) did not arise from a vacuum of voluntary codes. On the contrary, there were already seven different international ethical codes being applied. However, they seemed to lack effectiveness and credibility.
What made HEBI both necessary and different was the need to involve all stakeholders. As academic experts Catherine Dolan and Maggie Opondo put it: “In contrast to the Fresh Produce Exporters Association of Kenya, the Kenya Flower Council and the Voluntary Private Initiative, which were locally initiated attempts to protect the image of the industry in overseas markets, HEBI was a product of direct Northern involvement. While ETI and WWW only performed a facilitative role in the process, they were nonetheless pivotal to the establishment of a locally owned multi-stakeholder process.”
Today, according to ETI, there is still a lot of work to be done and plenty to criticise, but changes to the audit process and the purchasing practices of ETI members have led to a number improvements for workers in Kenya. For example, there are now more permanent contracts, establishment of worker welfare and gender committees, better provision of protective equipment, stricter pesticide controls and extensive improvements in housing. Furthermore, more women now have access to day-care facilities and there is general acceptance that pregnant women should have light duties.
Most encouragingly, Kenya’s convoluted and painful journey to creating their multi-stakeholder sector code has set a benchmark for other standards, like the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), to learn from and emulate. It has also inspired complementary programmes like The Floriculture Sustainability Initiative, part of the Dutch Sustainable Trade Initiative (IDH), which aims to accelerate and up-scale sustainable trade by building impact oriented coalitions of front running multinationals, civil society organisations, governments and other stakeholders.
So, yes, flowers do have footprints. But perhaps, if we learn from Kenya’s experiences, we can lighten the tread and ensure those footprints are heading in a more sustainable direction.
Environmental Research Digest – July 2012
The report analyzes changes in water risk disclosure by more than 80 companies between 2009 and 2011. The report covers water use in eight water intensive sectors: beverage, chemicals, electric power, food, homebuilding, mining, oil & gas and semiconductors.
- Overall corporate disclosures of water-related risks have increased since 2009, but most reporting remains weak and inconsistent.
- Significantly more companies are disclosing exposure to water risk, with a focus on physical risk.
- 87 percent of companies now report physical risk exposure versus 76 percent in 2009, with the biggest increases coming from the oil and gas sector.
- More companies are making the connection to climate change.
- In 2009, only eight of the 82 companies assessed (10 percent) disclosed that climate change posed growing physical risks in the form of water scarcity, flooding or quality issues to their operations and supply chains. In 2011, that number jumped to 22 (27 percent).
- There is a continued lack of quantitative data and performance targets.
- Despite improvements in overall disclosure, data on company water use and the financial impacts of water-related risks remain infrequent in financial filings.
- There is growing, but still limited, disclosure on water management systems and performance.
- In light of these risks, the report recommends that companies:
- undertake ongoing and more robust analysis of potential water-related risks;
- augment qualitative disclosure with more quantitative data in SEC filings;
- ensure compliance with the SEC’s guidance on climate change disclosure;
- provide investors with information on how they are mitigating water risks.
Environmental Research Digest – June 2012
The report identifies seven climate-themed areas in which bond investors can tap current opportunities: energy, transport, buildings and industry, waste, water, agriculture and forestry. The Climate Bonds Initiative then analyzed how the proceeds of the identified bonds were used.
- The climate-themed bond market is much broader and deeper than previously thought, with $174 billion worth of bonds outstanding.
- The study found over 1,000 outstanding climate-themed bonds, which came from 207 issuers.
- Corporations, including state-owned and private companies, issued 82 percent of the total, followed by development banks and financial institutions with 13 percent of the bonds.
- Project bonds accounted for 3 percent and municipal bonds were 2 percent.
- The climate-themed bond market is dominated by $119 billion of transport bonds, nearly all of that for railway projects, followed by $29 billion of low-carbon energy bonds.
- The report also found that bonds linked to the expansion of wind and solar power account for two-thirds of the $29 billion in energy bonds.
- UK institutions have issued the largest amount of climate-themed bonds, with 23 percent of the global total.
- France comes in second with 17 percent. Europe accounts for 67 percent of the global market, followed by the US with 17 percent and Russia, Canada and China, all at around three percent each.
- There could be another $204 billion of outstanding bonds from issuers with more than 50 percent of revenues and activities linked to the climate economy.
- The report also identifies a further $373 billion of bonds “conditionally aligned.”
- These are bonds issued from sectors or technologies linked to the climate economy, but where more disclosure is required to determine which bonds can be considered climate-themed.
- HSBC estimated that $10 trillion in cumulative capital investments will be required globally between 2010 and 2020 to drive low-carbon energy alone.
- Of that amount, $6 trillion could be required in terms of bank loans and bonds, assuming the historical 60:40 split between debt and equity is followed.
Environmental Research Digest – June 2012
Maplecroft has launched the Water Stress Index that calculates the water stress of over 168 countries. It evaluates renewable supplies of water from precipitation, streams and rivers against domestic, industrial and agricultural use.
- Unsustainable water use is threatening agriculture, other business and populations in China, India and the US.
- The arid Middle East and North Africa region is the most at-risk region in the index, with Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, Libya, Djibouti, UAE, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Oman and Egypt categorized as the 10 most water-stressed countries, listed in order of risk.
- However, the widespread use of irrigation for agriculture, combined with increasing domestic and industrial water demand in India (ranked 34th in the index), China (50) and the US (61) means that those economies’ water resources are coming under increasing pressure – and this may place more of an impact on the wider world.
- The populous northeast Chinese provinces of Beijing, Jiangsu, Shandong and Tianjin are all considered “extreme risk” by the Water Stress Index, due to large-scale economic growth and the rapid expansion of cities.
- Agriculture is a key driver of unsustainable water use in India.
- The country is classified as “high risk” overall, but at a subnational level the index identified “extreme” levels of water stress across large swathes of its most important agricultural land.
- States that are at “extreme risk” of water stress include Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and Rajasthan, while Delhi, Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal are rated at “high risk.”
- Although the USA is classified by Maplecroft as “medium risk” for water stress overall, large areas are already suffering from the depletion of ground water supplies, with states including Arizona, California, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico and Texas classified as being at “high” and “extreme risk.”
- The effects of water stress on global food inflation are illustrated by recent price hikes for soya beans, which have been pushing all-time highs.
By Dr Wayne Visser
About 2.4 billion people live in water-stressed countries, according to a report by the Pacific Institute. Water demand in the next two decades will double in India to 1.5 trillion cubic meters and rise 32% in China to 818 billion cubic meters, according to the 2030 Water Resources Group. China is home to roughly 20% of the world’s population, but has only about 7% of the world’s water. That means there are around 300 million people living in water-scarce areas. According to a World Bank report, water scarcity and pollution reduce China’s gross domestic product by about 2.3%.
When I interviewed Fred Pearce about his book, When the River Runs Dry, he told me that, for the average Westerner to get through the day, it takes about a hundred times their own weight in water – that’s every day; not every year, every day. The water used is mainly to grow the things that we eat. Pearce gave me some of the facts and figures: To grow a kilogram of wheat takes about a ton of water, a kilogram of rice takes more. Once you start feeding grains to livestock to produce meat and dairy products, the numbers are even higher. To produce enough meat for one hamburger takes about 10,000 litres of water, which is about 10 tons. If you are a vegetarian you are not doing too much better because it typically takes 4,000 litres of water to produce one litre of milk.
That’s for food. What about drinks? Coca-Cola sells 1.5 billion beverages a day in over 200 countries and uses about 2.5 litres of water to produce one litre of its products. The company received its water wake up call in 2002, when residents of Plachimada, a village in India’s southern state of Kerala, accused the company’s bottling plant there of depleting and polluting groundwater. Two years later, the local government forced Coke to shut down the plant. In 2006, their situation got worse when a New Delhi research group found high levels of pesticides in Coca-Cola and PepsiCo’s locally produced soft drinks, resulting in several Indian states banning their products. Coke denied any wrongdoing, claiming that bore-hole water fed farming was mainly responsible for lowering the water table and that the pollution claims were unsubstantiated. However, the public perceptions battle had already been lost.
Speaking to Time magazine in 2008, Jeff Seabright, the company’s vice president of environment and water resources, admitted that Coke had mishandled the controversy. ‘If people are perceiving that we’re using water at their expense, that’s not a sustainable operation,’ he said. This realisation resulted in a serious shift in Coke’s strategic positioning of its CSR towards tackling water as priority number one. ‘It’s great that companies used to hand out checks for scholarships or to clean up litter,’ said Seabright, ‘but increasingly the real relevance is using the company’s core competence to address issues that are of societal concern.’ And for Coke and the communities in which it operates, the concern is water.
Coke realised that it needs to be seen as part of the solution, not part of the problem. As a result, it has put resources into water at an unprecedented scale. In 2007, the company announced it would spend $20 million over five years to help the WWF preserve seven of the world’s major rivers. It also set up the $10 million Coca-Cola India Foundation, which began installing over 4,000 rainwater harvesting programmes and providing clean drinking water to 1,000 schools across the country. More significantly, in June of the same year, CEO Neville Isdell flew to Beijing and pledged that his company would become ‘water neutral’, saying, ‘Water is the main ingredient in nearly every beverage that we make. Without access to safe water supply, our business simply cannot exist.’
Coke uses the term ‘water neutral’ to describe the ratio of ground water usage by any user as against the quantity put back into nature. It is a contentious topic and not everyone believes it is possible. But the scale of Coke’s ambition – and indeed the progress it is making towards its targets – is going a long way to advancing the CSR 2.0 circularity agenda. Speaking in 2009, Coca Cola India’s Director of Quality and Environment, Navneet Mehta, said: ‘Our target is to neutralise all ground water usage by the company in India by the end of the current calendar year and become water neutral for all products and processes by 2012.’ Mehta reported that the company had already achieved a replenishment level of 82% on its annual ground water usage in India and that their ground water usage ratio had improved over 42% between 1998 and 2008.
The second largest beer manufacturer in the world, SABMiller, has also been working hard on understanding their water footprint, and launched a joint-report with WWF-UK in 2009 called ‘Water Footprinting: Identifying & Addressing Water Risks in the Value Chain’. The report reveals that in South Africa, the total water footprint is equivalent to 155 litres of water for every 1 litre of beer, while in SABMiller’s Czech operation the overall water footprint is significantly smaller at 45 litres of water to every 1 litre of beer. In both cases, the vast majority of this (over 90%) comes from the cultivation of crops, both local and imported.
Efforts like these of Coca-Cola SABMiller are being supported by the Water Footprint Network, which launched its Water Footprint Manual in 2010, covering a comprehensive set of methods for water footprint accounting. It shows how water footprints can be calculated for individual processes and products, as well as for consumers, nations and businesses, and includes methods for water footprint sustainability assessment and a library of water footprint response options. It’s time for us all to make less of a splash – either we ‘drop down’ our water consumption, or we ‘dry up’ our very source of life.
1. When the Rivers Run Dry: Water – The Defining Crisis of the Twenty-First Century (Fred Pearce)
Here is a book that is grounded in extensive research across the world. Yet, it has been written in a language that is accessible to the common man. Fred Pearce writes about a critical subject that will define progress and quality of life across the world in the coming decades – the decline of fresh water available for use. Review by Kiran Pereira. Read the full review in the Digest (see download/purchase links below) …
2. Consumer Republic: Using Brands to Get What You Want, Make Corporations Behave, and Maybe Even Save the World (Bruce Philp)
As corporate social responsibility and sustainability issues become more mainstream, many corporations are implementing programs to address their environmental, social, and economic impact. However, in Consumer Republic, Bruce Philp looks to the consumer to drive the change and accountability needed to ensure a more sustainable future for people and the planet. Review by Jennifer Roynon. Read the full review in the Digest (see download/purchase links below) …
3. Consumptionomics: Asia’s Role in Reshaping Capitalism and Saving the Planet (Chandran Nair)
You may have heard about the growing global population and the implications that that may have for the sustainability of our planet. Consumptionomics brings all the numbers and facts together to the reader and presents a comprehensive review of where the world currently stands and what fate possibly awaits it if the growing Asian nations adopt a ‘Western’ way of life. Review by Nazareth Seferian. Read the full review in the Digest (see download/purchase links below) …
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