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Chilean companies become aware of business impact on freshwater resources

Thursday, October 21st 2010 - 11:06 UTC
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The Water Footprint Network is operating in the desert zones of Chile  The Water Footprint Network is operating in the desert zones of Chile

Some companies in Chile have recently become involved in a movement to measure the impact of businesses on freshwater resources.

The initiative is overseen by the Holland-based non-profit organization called the Water Footprint Network, which measures water footprints, (the quantity of freshwater used in the production of a specific product).

The organization measures the direct and indirect water usages required to produce consumer products, and after a national average of water use is measured for the production specific goods or services, (for example the study found that one kilogram of beef uses 16,000 litres of water), the idea is to then take the average measurement and apply it directly to the geographical water basin that serves as a supply for the given company and sort of critique sustainability.

Throughout this process, they also measure three contributing factors. The green factor measures the contribution of precipitation, the blue factor measures the harnessing of surface and ground water, and the grey factor measures the pollution generated throughout the production process.

While there are not currently laws in place requiring businesses to take such precautions, some believe that in the next few years there will be such laws, and some have voluntarily stepped forward to participate in the awareness project. The Water Footprint Network is currently partnered with the University of Chile, Fundación Chile, Green Solutions consulting firms, and Conha y Toro, De Martino, and Errazuriz wineries.

Water footprint measurement is not nearly as direct as carbon in conveying its pollution damage, but the Water Footprint Network uses an in depth analysis to break down such damages, and create awareness of water sustainability within production supply chains as a whole. The process starts with single products, then applying the information to specific companies in specific areas, then to the global trade markets.

“Maybe the water footprint is not going to follow the same critical path of the carbon footprint, but the fact is that it calls for companies to rethink the management of water resources,” said project manager of agribusiness at Foundation Chile, Rodrigo Acevedo.

The majority of measurements are currently taking place in regions of the Atacama dessert, such as Huasco Copiapó, the most affected region by water shortage issues.

The Water Footprint Network is working together with the Ministry of Agriculture to measure table grapes (Chile's largest produce export), avocados, apples and blueberries, and they are currently expecting results in December for six Atacama agricultural enterprises who are participating in the study.

Not only will the study provide crucial information about the water usage of local areas, but it will also provide incentives for the companies stepping forward to participate in the studies.

The studies could provide a competitive edge for producers as well, an opportunity “to engender loyalty, differentiation and added value to products,” head of sustainable trade in the Export Promotion Bureau, Paola Conca.

The idea of the project is becoming more globally relevant as places such as Asia are beginning to fear the extremities of nearing water crises. The Water Footprint Network has already assessed impacts in countries such as Germany, China, and the UK.

By Dustin Zarnikow – Santiago Times

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