The CSR Newsletters are a freely-available resource generated as a dynamic complement to the textbook, Strategic Corporate Social Responsibility: Sustainable Value Creation.

To sign-up to receive the CSR Newsletters regularly during the fall and spring academic semesters, e-mail author David Chandler at

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Strategic CSR - Water

With the drought being experienced in California, together with access to clean, fresh water increasingly a contentious issue among nations worldwide, you would think that water conservation would be more prominent in our collective consciousness. If we were a far-thinking society, we would also be analyzing current water usage, evaluating what makes sense and what doesn’t, and re-assessing our priorities to adapt to the future constrained supply. The article in the url below demonstrates how far away we are from any of those actions. In particular, it analyzes the amounts of water we use to generate different food products with some pretty amazing statistics:
“Who knew, for example, that it took 5.4 gallons to produce a head of broccoli, or 3.3 gallons to grow a single tomato? This information about the water footprint of food products — that is, the amount of water required to produce them — is important to understand, especially for a state [CA] that dedicates about 80 percent of its water to agriculture.”
What is clear, however, is that, while vegetable usage consumes a lot of water, the amounts pale in comparison to the amount of water we use to make meat:
“Beef turns out to have an overall water footprint of roughly four million gallons per ton produced. By contrast, the water footprint for ‘sugar crops’ like sugar beets is about 52,000 gallons per ton; for vegetables it’s 85,000 gallons per ton; and for starchy roots it’s about 102,200 gallons per ton.”
This usage is particularly important in relation to “blue water”—the fresh, clean water that we need to survive:
“Vegetables use about 11,300 gallons per ton of blue water; starchy roots, about 4,200 gallons per ton; and fruit, about 38,800 gallons per ton. By comparison, pork consumes 121,000 gallons of blue water per ton of meat produced; beef, about 145,000 gallons per ton; and butter, some 122,800 gallons per ton.”
In California’s case, not only is the state using too much water to generate meat, it is also using that water to generate meat for others by growing and exporting alfalfa, which is used to supplement feed for grass-fed cattle:
“Alfalfa growers are now exporting some 100 billion gallons of water a year from this drought-ridden region to the other side of the world in the form of alfalfa. All as more Asians are embracing the American-style, meat-hungry diet.”
Of course, like in any other industry, the beef industry is subject to waste. When the waste is water, however, the consequences seem more immediate and potentially damaging:
“Further intensifying this ecological injustice are incidents such as the Rancho Feeding Corporation’s recent recall of 8.7 million pounds of beef because the meat lacked a full federal inspection. That equals 631.6 million gallons of water wasted by an industry with a far more complex and resource-intensive supply chain than the systems that move strawberries from farm to fork.”
And, it is not only growing the meat that consumes water, but preparing it, too:
“… the Rancho incident reminds us that plants aren’t slaughtered, a process that demands 132 gallons of water per animal carcass, contributing even more to livestock’s expanding water footprint.”
Take care
David Chandler & Bill Werther
Instructor Teaching and Student Study Site:
Strategic CSR Simulation:
The library of CSR Newsletters are archived at:

Meat Makes the Planet Thirsty
By James McWilliams
March 8, 2014
The New York Times
Late Edition – Final