Clean water

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(HOST) Recently, commentator Ruth Page was interested to learn that one of the world’s most powerful corporations is taking a leadership role in global water conservation.

(PAGE) People carrying water-bottles are ubiquitous today, many – if they but knew it – paying good money for water that came right out of a tap. It’s a pleasant surprise to learn that the Coca-Cola Company has committed itself to save water worldwide. Coke uses more than 79 billion gallons of water a year for its drinks. Then it uses more water to produce its ingredients and packaging.

Now, the company is working with the World Wildlife Fund, or WWF, to help save rivers in many parts of the earth, including the vast country of China. Coke has plans to make the company the most efficient water and energy user in the soft-drink industry. They’re setting specific, measurable targets for water efficiency all the way through their supply chain, starting with the sugar they use. Sugar cane is a demanding water-user.

The plan is that Coke will replace every drop of water they use in their beverages and in their production. They’ll carefully manage the amount they use in the drinks so none is wasted; they’ll recycle the water used in the manufacturing process so it can be safely returned to the environment; and they’ll replenish water supplies in other parts of the world by setting up projects in a variety of water-thirsty locales.

Coke is giving $20 million as a startup fund to set up conservation projects in seven vast river systems. They are the Yangtze in China; the Mekong in Southeast Asia; the Rio Grande in the Southwest United States; various rivers and streams in the U.S. Southeast; rivers feeding the Mesoamerican Caribbean Reef; river basins of East Africa; and the no-longer-blue Danube.

Teams are already at work in all seven areas, trying to save river dolphins, restore wetlands and develop ways to conserve. WWF experts are assisting the company with its know-how. They are helping Coke increase its own energy efficiency, pursue clean energy technology and reduce both its direct and indirect emissions. WWF is leading workshops for many of the company’s bottling partners. Coke is establishing targets for climate-related emission reductions in 2008.

World Wildlife Fund CEO Carter Roberts says the water crisis is just as important as climate change, as thousands of people die every day from dirty water. The water is also driving some species to extinction. As we know, signs at various beaches in Vermont sometimes warn people not to swim in lakes because of the pollution.

If Coke can achieve water neutrality, perhaps other companies large and small can do the same. Here’s a spot where Follow the Leader is a rewarding game: save money while helping save the planet.

Ruth Page has been following environmental issues for 20 years. She is a long time Vermont resident and currently lives in Shelburne.

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