Patagonia has recently begun a two-year initiative, Our Common Waters, to educate and engage our friends and customers. While this campaign focuses on the freshwater crisis facing the earth during the next several decades, it also strikes directly home for Patagonia as a company. We need to better educate ourselves and improve our own practices as a business that relies on water for its survival – and to pass on to customers (and other businesses) whatever we learn that’s new.
At Patagonia we’re only beginning to learn just how much water we consume – or how much water is used in our name. We do know that, as individuals, each of us drains an Olympic-sized poolful of water (2.5 million liters) to slake a year’s worth of daily thirst, make ice cubes for the lemonade, power the low-flow toilet, feed the plants, wash the dishes and grow cotton for our jeans.
Business, including agribusiness, has direct responsibility for most of the water coming out of that Olympic-sized pool. As individuals we have to remember that much of the water used in our name doesn’t come out of the tap we turn on to rinse the dishes, but rather as our share of the sum of industrial production and consumption. So it’s important for us all to keep an eye on what business does to increase – or meet – the challenges posed by water scarcity and pollution. And in the rich world we should remember that businesses – often our businesses – operating in the poor world to privatize water supply will do nothing for the common good. Antipollution measures, where they are expensive, often must be government-mandated and enforced. But all businesses, including ours, are eager to cut costs – and therefore consumption.