Nov 7 - Big Businesses Acknowledge Importance of Water Conservation

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The NY Times highlights Levi Jeans company for conserving water as a business strategy.

Levi Jeans Co. fears that water shortages caused by climate change may jeopardize the company’s future by making cotton too expensive or scarce. Floods in Pakistan and droughts in China have already affected the company, destroying cotton crops and sent cotton prices soaring. The company uses roughly two pounds of cotton for every pair of jeans they make.

Jeans are very water intensive. A typical pair of blue jeans consumes 919 gallons of water during its life cycle, or enough to fill about 15 spa-size bathtubs. That includes the water that goes into irrigating the cotton crop, stitching the jeans together and washing them scores of times at home.

So to protect its bottom line, Levi Strauss has been teaching farmers in India, Pakistan, Brazil and West and Central Africa the latest irrigation and rainwater-capture techniques. It has introduced a brand featuring stone-washed denim smoothed with rocks but no water, and encouraging urging customers to wash less and use only cold water.

Other businesses are also taking steps to reduce their water consumption - food and beverage conglomerates, tobacco companies and metal and mining companies are all starting to reckon with their heavy dependence on water. Pepsico, for example, has embraced a method of sanitizing plastic bottles with purified air instead of water at a plant in Georgia. For its Frito-Lay brands, it has identified drought-resistant potato strains that it provides to farmers along with a soil-monitoring method so that crops are watered only when necessary.

Some giant retailers, including Ikea, the Gap and Adidas, founded the international nonprofit Better Cotton Initiative (Levi also joined) to promote water conservation and reduce pesticide use and child-labor practices in the industry.

While these multinational companies are using better environmental practices out of self-preservation, they are also realizing that green production is more profitable in the long-run.

The initiative found that Indian farms adopting the new techniques reduced water and pesticide use by an average of 32%, and the profit was 20% higher than that of a control group using traditional methods. Mr. Mahalle, one cotton grower in Shelu, India, explains that the drip system spreads water and fertilizer more evenly than traditional pumping, and because it puts water only where it is needed, it also results in fewer weeds.


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