03/12/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Is Water The New Carbon (And Not The New Oil)?

It's become commonplace in the sustainability world to say water is the oil of the 21st century. But it may be more accurate to say it's the new carbon. The problem is not about absolute scarcity--after all, the world's supply of water has remained constant since forever. Instead, we must allocate the resource fairly among competing human needs such as industries, agriculture, and cities. And the solutions have to do with finding efficiencies and closing loops to achieve "water neutrality"--when an enterprise returns the same amount of clean water to the world as it uses.

According to Joel Makower and the folks at, in their new State of Green Business report, Coca-Cola is one of the biggest companies to announce a water neutral goal. By 2010 they pledge all their manufacturing facilities will return all the water they use to the environment, clean enough for fish and farms. GE has a 20 percent reduction goal for freshwater by 2012. IBM is investing in a new water management resource center. Frito-Lay has cut water 50% since 1999.

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