UN Says 45 CEOs, From Coke to Levi’s, Join Water Effort

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Pedestrians walk past a Coca-Cola Co. delivery truck in New York. Photographer: Scott Eells/Bloomberg

The United Nations has received support from chief executive officers at 45 companies, from Levi Strauss & Co. to Coca-Cola Co., in an effort to use water more efficiently.

The companies joined the UN Global Compact in committing to improve water-management practices during a meeting in Rio de Janeiro today, according to a statement. The compact is the world’s biggest organization backing sustainability measures.

About 800 million people worldwide don’t have safe drinking water and another 2.5 billion lack access to sanitation, the UN estimated. It cited research from McKinsey & Co. showing water demand will outstrip supply by 40 percent by 2030.

“Water is a critical issue, and most companies are doing nothing about it,” Gavin Power, deputy director of the UN Global Compact, said in an interview in Rio de Janiero. “This is a market failure.”

The CEOs agreed to work “more actively with governments and public authorities in responsible and transparent ways to help solve the global water crisis,” according to a statement from the UN Compact today.

Levi Strauss, based in San Francisco, is working to ensure cotton growers who supply materials for its jeans use water efficiently, and Atlanta-based Coke reduced the amount of water consumed in the process of making 1 liter (0.26 gallon) of its product by 13 percent in 2011, according to the UN.

Other companies participating in the program include Anheuser-Busch InBev NV, Banco do Brasil SA, Bayer AG, De Beers Group, Dow Chemical Co., Nestle SA, Royal Dutch Shell Plc, Unilever NV and Xstrata Plc.

Water Companies

“All companies are water companies because they all rely on water, whether it’s in pharmaceuticals or for beverages,” Power said. “The scale of the water problem is so big that governments can’t solve it alone. They need the help of the private sector.”

The UN announcement is being made in Rio de Janiero, where 50,000 delegates and 130 heads of state have gathered for the Rio+20 conference on sustainable development. The UN and other organizations are hosting conferences across the city.

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