Nestlé calls for international water footprint measure

By Rick Pendrous

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Ecological footprint Water crisis Water supply Nestlé

Nestlé calls for international water footprint measure
consumer confusion over green labelling is set to intensify as new standards proposed

Nestlé has called for an internationally agreed measure of the 'water footprint' for products, in a move which is set to intensify the debate about consumer confusion over different forms of environmentally friendly labelling.

Research from the Future Foundation (FF) think tank and consultancy highlights widespread confusion about green labelling terms that are already being used. Water footprint labelling looks set to add to that confusion.

"The main thing is confusion: [consumers] do not understand the language that is being used," said FF's director of research Karen Elton. "When somebody goes into a shop to buy a product they are being asked to consider a wide array of different things before they can make their choice."

Despite that, Nestlé is known to think that carbon labels are too simplistic and believes that labelling for water consumption and sustainable sourcing are equally important.

Speaking at last month's World Water Week conference in Sweden, Jose Lopez, executive vice president of operations for Nestlé SA, at the launch of WWF's (formerly World Wildlife Fund's) report Water for life: Lessons for climate change adaptation from better management of rivers for people and nature said: "There is currently no commonly agreed set of metrics to measure water footprints which makes it very difficult to accurately measure the impact of industry on water, but we cannot ignore the fact that good global water management is critical to doing business in the long term."

In a separate report titled UK Water Footprint: the impact of the UK's food and fibre consumption on global resources also published by WWF last month, the issue of hidden water - so called 'embedded' or 'virtual' water needed to grow produce and make food products - was also raised. This can have a seriously damaging impact on exporting countries where water resources are already under severe stress.

Lopez said: "A company like ours, acting as it does in hundreds of thousands of agricultural communities, can play a leading role in water management but unless other parties, including governments, provide the frameworks we will not have the collective effect on our water footprint that we know we need to."

He added that access to clean water was a huge problem, albeit one that "has been neglected due to the climate issue". Lopez pointed out that it took 9,000 litres of water to produce one litre of soy based biofuel.

In contrast, Tesco boss Terry Leahy stressed the global retailer's emphasis on reducing its carbon footprint at a speech in Beijing last month. "If we are to move to a low-carbon economy, policies - such as tax and planning - must reward low-carbon activities and investment," he said.

Professor Mohan Munasinghe has just been appointed director general of the Tesco-funded Sustainable Consumption Institute.

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