Insight & Analysis

How much water does that strawberry cost?

By Wayne Dunn

Wayne Dunn

Wayne Dunn is an award-winning global CSR expert with extensive teaching, writing, lecturing and Advisory Service experience. He is supported by an extensive faculty and advisory team.

How much water does a strawberry cost?
Do you care?  Should you care?  Maybe it is kind of important to think about how much water, or clean air, or healthy ecosystem, things cost. 




Water is valuable.  It is important to make conscious choices about how we spend it.



Before you read further – if you are reading this to get an answer to that question you should stop now.  You won’t get it.  If you want to (maybe) get pushed to thinking about it a bit differently, then you might enjoy the next 500 words…

But, you won’t get an answer…  You may find a new way of thinking about cost though.

What do you think when you hear How much water does a strawberry cost?  Does it sound weird?
Wait, think about it.  Water is one of the most important things on this planet.  It is finite.  Shouldn’t we want to know how much water it takes to produce something?
If you think this irrelevant go to California’s Central Valley, indeed all of California and watch the struggles for the declining amount of available water. Almonds, strawberries, people, lawns, fish (yes, fish) and many more interests all ‘need’ water.  Some will get much less than they ‘need’.
Suddenly, strawberries that cost less water will have a competitive advantage, and consumers may become interested in how much water a strawberry costs.
It isn’t just water.  Our planet has a finite amount of a lot of things that our lives depend on.  And a finite amount of ecosystems and other resources that make our planet able to support so many billions of us.
We’ve proven remarkably incapable of managing them prudently.  Far beyond the California water situation.  Check out what Berkeley based Global Footprint has to say. 
Do we fit on the planet?

Today humanity uses the equivalent of 1.5 planets to provide the resources we use and to absorb our waste. This means it now takes the Earth one year and six months to regenerate what we use in a year. http://www.footprintnetwork.org/en/index.php/GFN/page/world_footprint/
Not good management, especially if you think some of the other creatures on the planet deserve something too.
So, what does that all have to do with How much water does that strawberry cost?  If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.
If you don’t pay for it you won’t manage it?

So, maybe we should know how much water something costs? 
How much water does your designer jacket cost?  How much carbon?
Your iPhone?  Your Xbox?  Your favourite TV show?

What about education?  How much water does a degree cost?   The list goes on.
Even to How much water does that beer cost?   Beer can cost a lot of water.  But, some companies are taking big steps to manage it.  Some aren’t.  Would you like to know How much water your beer costs?
Some companies are measuring things like this.  I was pleasantly surprised this week, while reading the sustainability report of Eldorado Gold, a Canadian gold mining company that is not recognized as a sustainability leader.  Yet, they tracked water usage around gold production, and have made impressive steps at managing it.
I’m sure other companies are doing similar, with water and other important natural capital inputs.
Wait, what is natural capital?  There are a few definitions that people use.  I like to think of natural capital as those resources the planet provides for us and which people and industry are not really paying the full price to use (or abuse).
Things like water, like clean air, like ecosystems.  For the most part we use and abuse water and air and such at the cost of acquiring them.  As water gets more scares it costs more to acquire but is the price really a market price?  Are we paying the full ecosystem cost of taking that water from nature?
Same with abusing air.  Industry (and individuals, for those of us who occasionally want to point at others as the problem) are starting to pay some cost for managing how much we mess up the air and the atmosphere.  But, not nearly the true cost.
This is a long debate and we won’t try to resolve it here, even though it is important.
Back to how much water that strawberry costs
Do you think we should know how much?  Or should we even care?
Do you think it important to know how much of our earth’s ecosystem resource are used by the different things in your life?
Do you trust industry and governments to manage these resources without measuring them in relation to outputs?
If you answered these questions like I do then you may want to ask How much water does that strawberry cost?   
And keep asking until it becomes not weird to ask because everyone knows that we should know how much of our planet’s ecosystem is used for the products and services that we buy.
How many planets do we have?

…remember… How much water does that strawberry cost?