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The Green Life: The Cost of Water

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July 21, 2009

The Cost of Water

CostofwaterIn spite of being one of the simplest, most abundant resources on our planet, water has become a complex commodity, fraught with issues of social justice. For example, producing one cup of coffee can use up to 37 gallons of water – water that likely comes from someone else’s well.

There should be greater transparency and accountability for water use, say two food ethics groups in a recent report. They recommend creating a labeling system for food and drink that would reflect the true cost of the water used in production, and help consumers make more sustainable decisions.

The proposed “water stewardship labeling system” would borrow from the concept of a carbon footprint, which is a systematic measurement an individual's, businesses', or nation’s carbon emissions. Creating such a model, however, would be incredibly complex. For now, the Food Ethics Council (FEC) recommends focusing on recognizing companies that have already moved towards more sustainable practices.

The FEC and Sustain’s concept is timely, as water scarcity has been a common topic in the news.
Today, the London Financial Times reported that water shortages in India have reached crisis levels, the result of climate change, overpopulation, and overuse by local and international businesses.

In addition, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange recently predicted that water could soon be commodified on the market, to be traded like oil and grains. Their report, delivered at a water-technologies conference in Milwaukee, stressed that the costs of water are often hidden. For example, who pays for the 1,500 gallons of water it takes to produce a fast food meal?  

For now, water stewardship labeling is just a proposal. To inform consumers until the idea becomes a reality, the FEC’s report lays out some helpful guidelines:

--Not surprisingly, meat and dairy often require the most water to produce

--Production of sugar and vegetables is more water intensive than cereals. 

--In processed foods, the production of raw materials uses the most water.

Click here to read the full report.

--Jamie Hansen

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