Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Water, water....everywhere?

We talk a lot about the carbon impact of events. But what about water?

An event attendee can consume approximately 330 L of water per day conservatively, including hotel and venue use. That's enough to overflow two bathtubs. And that doesn't include food production, which is significant if you consider:
  • A cup of coffee takes 200 L (55 gallons) of water to make, with most of the water used to grow the coffee beans.
  • A quarter-pounder is worth more than 30 average American showers.
In contrast a person living in sub-Saharan Africa survives on as little as 10-20 L (3-5 gallons) per day.

Seems a bit unequal.

So what simple, water-saving steps can you take to reduce your water footprint at events?
  • Start at your desk. Get a reusable water bottle and use it. Buy office supplies with recycled content. Use that recycling bin. Bike, take transit or ride share. Recycling a pound of paper, less than the weight of your average newspaper, saves about 3.5 gallons of water.
  • Pay attention to water conservation in food and beverage. Don't pre-fill water glasses and don't use bottled water. Serve buffet-style. Ask for 'from scratch' menus as processed foods tend to have a higher energy and water footprint. Consider one fully vegetarian meal or a higher portion of vegetables instead of heavy protein. One of the easiest ways to slim your water footprint is to eat less meat and dairy. Another way is to choose grass-fed, rather than grain-fed, since it can take a lot of water to grow corn and other feed crops. Also, just say no to printing 100 page BEOs (or at least make sure it's recycled content)!
  • Ask if venues and hotels are water-wise and give those who are your business. Look for low flow fixtures (are two shower heads really necessary?). Inquire if properties use green-certified cleaners and recycled content bathroom papers. Also, don't forget energy conservation impacts water use, so choosing venues and hotels that practice energy efficiency can indirectly reduce your water footprint.
  • Select a city with a small carbon footprint from travel. A gallon of gasoline takes nearly 13 gallons of water to produce, so less air travel equals less fuel use, which helps conserve water. Flying from Los Angeles to San Francisco, about 700 miles round-trip, could cost you more than 9,000 gallons of water, or enough for almost 2,000 average dishwasher loads. A walkable city also reduces shuttle, fuel and water use.
March 22 is World Water Day. How will you honour it? Will you make a splash or a ripple?

Reference: National Geographic, Columbia University.

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