The First U.S. City to Run Out of Water?

by Rachel Finan, student at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies

Experts predict that by 2025 Sana’a, Yemen will become the first capital city to run out of water. They predict that by 2030 India will need to double its water-generation capacity or face the same fate, and water supplies in Istanbul, one of the world’s largest cities, is at just 28 percent. Yet before any of those cities run dry (in far off developing countries that most people in the United States associate with water scarcity issues), it could be a U.S. city that runs out of water. And it’s not just the usual suspects in the Southwest who face increasingly serious water concerns. Miami, FL is the second-most vulnerable U.S. city in a drought according to a University of Florida Environmental Hydrology Laboratory study. Cities such as Cleveland, OH; Chicago, IL; and New York, NY follow not far behind.

Rachel FinanJust last February, California state officials announced that 17 communities and water districts could run out of water in as little as 100 days. In Texas, that number more than doubles. Earlier this year state officials reported 48 communities were within 90 days of water interruptions; as of August 20th, there are 27 communities on that list. One small town in TX reportedly already has run dry.

This begs an obvious question; what are we doing about it? Additionally, what should we be doing about it – not just as a temporary fix, but as a long-term, strategic response? What would you do if water stopped coming out of your tap? Imagine if your town was one of the California or Texas communities with only 90 days of water left. As an EDF Climate Corps fellow, I’ve spent the last several weeks contemplating these questions and identifying opportunities for Texas-based institutions to not only conserve water, but to save money while doing so. I’ve been inspired by many examples throughout the state.

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Four Lessons in Corporate Water Efficiency

by Susannah Harris, 2014 Climate Corps Fellow

I received quizzical looks from family and friends when I told them I was working on water efficiency projects at Verizon this summer. They paused, racking their brains about where water is used within the telecommunications industry. “Like in the bathrooms?” they’d ask.

Susannah Harris pictured here on site at Verizon headquarters in Basking Ridge, NJ

Susannah Harris pictured here on site at Verizon headquarters in Basking Ridge, NJ

The reality is that domestic telecom companies rely on billions of gallons of water per year to cool, clean and maintain the buildings and equipment that support their expansive networks. And because customers require networks to operate 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, much of that equipment is running around the clock. From cooling tower adjustments to grey water recycling, there are a number of water-saving opportunities available for the telecommunications industry. Implementing these practices – thereby reducing municipal water, sewer and energy bills – can also make a noticeable impact on the company's bottom line.

As an EDF Climate Corps fellow, my job was to chart a path forward for Verizon’s water efficiency efforts. The company has already made significant strides to reduce its carbon intensity – by 37 percent through 2012 over a 2009 baseline. “Verizon is taking a deeper dive into water efficiency to save critical resources for future generations,” says James Gowen, Chief Sustainability Officer and vice president of supply chain at Verizon. “Reducing our utility bills and increasing the effectiveness of our assets is a win-win for our business and the environment.”

Here are some lessons learned from my time at Verizon, which I hope will help other professionals developing corporate water strategies. The key is to gain a better understanding of how and where your company uses water – a critical building block for an effective program:

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No Water Means No Beer, and Other Insights from an LA Water Conference

Beer lovers – now that I have your attention – let’s talk water. Nowhere in the country is water more critical an issue and looming risk than in my home state of California… critical to farmers, utilities, businesses, and yes, even breweries.

San Luis Reservoir

The San Luis Reservoir, facing low levels in 2008

The current drought has brought a host of challenges for our growing state, including more wildfires, collapsing delta ecosystems and fisheries, decaying infrastructure and declining water quality. While California is on track to reduce carbon pollution due to our progressive climate and energy policies, our water challenges are the elephant in the room.

So it was inspiring to attend a daylong event convened by the Pacific Institute in Los Angeles, where leading corporate, nonprofit and technical water experts honed in on water stewardship and shared innovative solutions to the business and environmental challenges we face with regard to water scarcity.

The companies represented there – including AT&T, Deloitte, MillerCoors and Veolia – see water scarcity as a current business risk, as well as a critical component to economic growth in California, the Colorado River Basin and around the world. The World Economic Forum even ranked water crises as the third most pressing global risk for 2014. “Often, the greatest risks come from conditions over which the company has the least influence,” noted Jason Morrison of the Pacific Institute, whose Water Action Hub offers a powerful guide with tools and resources for collective action.

The day’s far-reaching discussion would be impossible to capture in a single blog post, so I'll highlight here just a few of the challenges and solutions that stuck with me after a full day of information sharing.

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What We Build Together: Collaborating to Scale up Sustainability

Brendan FitzSimons speaking at Accelerating Sustainability

Brendan FitzSimons (2nd from left) speaking at Accelerating Sustainability

Today’s environmental challenges are bigger, thornier and more interconnected than ever. Meeting these challenges will require more effective collaborations among businesses, governments and NGOs to discover and deliver solutions.

That’s why it was so encouraging to see the focus on partnerships between these sectors to scale up sustainability at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation's 2014 Accelerating Sustainability Forum.

I participated in a panel entitled “Sustainability and the Return on Collaboration” with Eunice Heath, Dow Chemical’s global director for sustainability, Ann Klee, GE’s vice president of environment, health and safety, and Monique Oxender, Keurig Green Mountain’s senior director for sustainability. Chris Guenther of SustainAbility, the panel’s moderator, asked us to share our perspectives on collaboration and how they have evolved over time.

During the panel, I spoke about EDF’s more than two decades of experience working with leading companies to unlock environmental benefits, starting with our first corporate partnership with McDonalds to identify opportunities to cut waste and save money. That approach—identifying opportunities that deliver both environmental benefits and business value—has characterized our other corporate collaborations, including those with FedEx, Walmart, and AT&T.

For example, our work with AT&T has focused on identifying ways to cool their buildings more efficiently, saving both water and energy. Based on our work together, AT&T has publicly committed to saving 150 million gallons of water and 400 million kilowatt hours of electricity from building cooling each year by 2015.

Increasingly, companies like AT&T are also recognizing the influence collaborations like these can have on environmental performance beyond their own walls and operations:

Guenther noted that while collaboration is needed to develop environmental solutions that can overcome industry and competitive boundaries, these efforts can also be challenging. An audience member took that opportunity to ask the panel what we thought were the key elements for successful partnerships:

  1. Take the time to build relationships and understand your partner’s concerns.
  2. It’s important to understand the business case for making environmental improvements. Often, the business case is based on cost reductions, but other compelling arguments include risk management, the creation of new business opportunities, or brand/reputational benefits.
  3. Be clear on goals and objectives of a partnership to avoid any confusion or disappointment among both parties.

While collaborations to realize environmental benefits among companies and NGOs can change over time and require care and attention, they hold the potential to address problems affecting not only a single company, but an entire industry.

Additional reading:

Business is the New Environmentalist

I just returned from Walmart’s first Sustainable Products Expo, where thousands of suppliers gathered to talk about sustainability, show off their products and make commitments for action. There’s a new energy behind sustainability thanks to Walmart’s increasing efforts over the past ten years and their dynamic new CEO, Doug McMillon.

Elizabeth Sturcken

Elizabeth Sturcken addressing the crowd at the Walmart Sustainable Products Expo

Environmental Defense Fund has been there every step of the way, pushing Walmart hard to set and follow through on aggressive yet achievable goals that can drive the kind of change that only a company that has over 100,000 global suppliers and 250 million customers a week can.

Strong Goals:  A Powerful Driver of Action

After 25 years of working with business, we know that setting goals matters in making real and lasting change.

This week’s Expo is a great example: we worked with Walmart for years to set and announce their groundbreaking goal of reducing 20 million metric tons (MT) of greenhouse gas emissions from its global supply chain. And on stage with them this week, we saw leading brands like Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Kellogg’s and General Mills stepping forward and committing to action on fertilizer and recycling — two of the biggest areas of opportunity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Walmart’s supply chain — directly as a result of that 20 million MT goal.

Walmart and their suppliers are seeing opportunities to make improvements not because they’re required to do so, but because it’s just good business.

Closing the Loop on Recycling

9 companies came together with the Walmart Foundation to start The Closed Loop Fund, a $100 million initiative to help communities finance recycling infrastructure projects. Their goal is to ensure that 100 percent of U.S. consumers have access to recycling.

These companies — Walmart and the Walmart Foundation, The Coca-Cola Company, Goldman Sachs, Johnson & Johnson Family of Consumer Companies, Keurig Green Mountain, Inc., PepsiCo and the PepsiCo Foundation, Procter & Gamble, SC Johnson and Unilever — have been facing a big hurdle in including more postconsumer recycled content in their products: recycling rates are stagnant and they can’t get enough materials from recycling streams to meet their goals. The Fund is part of Walmart’s holistic strategy to ask suppliers to include more postconsumer recycled content in their packaging while moving away from materials that are problematic for recycling.

Right-Sizing Fertilizer Use

From the same stage, six more companies’ CEOs — Campbell Soup Company, Monsanto, Dairy Farmers of America (DFA), General Mills, Kellogg Company and PepsiCo, plus Cargill’s chairman of the board — committed to make their agricultural operations more sustainable, with goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and fertilizer and water use. For many of them, this was in addition to work that they’ve already launched with Walmart to optimize fertilizer use in its supply chain. If fully implemented, this could result in greenhouse gas reductions of 7 million metric tons, reduce fertilizer runoff and help farmers cut costs.

The specific commitments each company made range from reducing the amount of GHG emissions and water used per ton of food produced (Campbells) to increasing farmers’ utilization of sustainable farming practices (Cargill, DFA, General Mills, Kellogg Company, PepsiCo).

What Really Matters:  Getting It Done

The work that Walmart and its suppliers is doing, catalyzed by the 20MMT goal, is not easy — it’s rooted in the notion that to get the kind of environmental results needed to address an issue like climate change, you need a systems approach and you need to work with suppliers. Even the world’s largest company working alone is not enough.

This week Walmart used its clout to bring together leading companies and give them a platform from which to make their commitment. Together, these companies represent more than a trillion dollars in total revenue. That’s a lot of power in the marketplace being leveraged for sustainability goals. Of course, in the end we’ll judge them all by  results— significant, measurable and transparent impacts of their efforts — and we expect Walmart to help hold them accountable for this progress.

Scaling Up to Save Water: Bringing our Water Efficiency Toolkit to 5 Thirsty U.S. Cities

This year, the focus of World Water Day is on how intertwined our energy and water use are, with water supplies across the country growing increasingly strained – in areas that depend on flows from the Colorado River, like California, for example – and demand for both freshwater and energy continuing to grow.

Former EDF Climate Corps fellow Jen Snook with an AT&T representative

Former EDF Climate Corps fellow Jen Snook with an AT&T representative

In the U.S., 36 states faced water shortages last summer, and the 2012 drought cost the U.S. an estimated $35 billion from crop losses and business interruptions. U.S. water prices have doubled or even tripled over the past dozen years, and rates are expected to continue to climb.

Water is a critical business issue as well, and not just for the agricultural and industrial sectors. Increasing droughts and water shortages are causing companies to pay more attention to their water use throughout their operations. In particular, when it comes to buildings, companies are learning that their water and energy use are closely connected. Read more

U.S. drought: is this the new normal?

Guest post by Tim Fleming, Director of Sustainability Operations, AT&T

By now most of the country is aware of the severe drought conditions impacting California. Now entering its third year, it is also affecting neighboring states and is an increasing cause for concern.

Last month, Governor Brown proclaimed a State of Emergency and called upon all Californians, including homeowners and businesses, to voluntarily reduce their water use by 20 percent. President Obama reiterated this call last week and AT&T asked its more than 34,000 California employees to reduce their company water usage by 30% until the drought declaration is lifted.

California is not the only state suffering from dangerously dry conditions. Last week, Governor Perry in Texas renewed his July 2011 proclamation extending the drought emergency. Leading me to ask – is this our country's new reality?

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Cut Water Use for Today’s Drought—And Tomorrow’s

California reservoir levels; red lines indicate historical average levels. (Source: California Data Exchange Center)

California reservoir levels; red lines indicate historical average levels. (Source: California Data Exchange Center)

California is experiencing its driest year on record, facing a drought that impacts industries across the state: electricity, farming, fishing, even tourism. Governor Jerry Brown declared the drought a statewide emergency last January, and President Obama visited the state on Friday to speak firsthand with farmers and other stakeholders about how the drought is impacting them.

While the state and the federal government rally resources to try and help those affected in this crisis, businesses also have a role to play by reducing how much their operations impact the state’s precious water supplies.

AT&T stepped out in front of the issue on Friday, with AT&T California President Ken McNeely announcing that he was directing the company’s 34,000 California employees to reduce their company water usage by 30 percent until the drought condition passes. Among the measures McNeely announced, employees will reduce water use by cutting landscape irrigation and halting the washing of AT&T’s fleet of more than 15,000 vehicles. Kudos to AT&T for acting quickly in a time of crisis to implement these and other measures at their California facilities. Read more

Meet the sustainability leaders of tomorrow

Here at EDF Climate Corps we have the ability to glimpse into the future and see what the next generation of business leaders looks like.

CC-group

They are passionate about creating a new business model where the bottom line and sustainability go hand in hand. They are well studied in building sustainable supply chains, energy management, reducing water use and responsible freight logistics. And they have incredible tools in their toolkits to build sustainable financial models and do in-depth analysis of energy use across companies.

As we look across the nearly 700 graduate students who are vying for EDF Climate Corps fellowships this summer, we can’t help but be impressed at the depth and diversity of this pool of applicants. Here’s a snapshot:

  • 5+ years of work experience
  • 3 years of project management experience
  • 2.5 years of sustainability/energy experience
  • 31% are engineers
  • 62% are MBA students
  • 27% have dual degrees
  • 23% are international
  • 43% speak a second language Read more