Water Footprint

Blog Post by Emma Greenhalgh 07 September 2015

Environmental footprints help us understand how our production and consumption affect natural resources. The water footprint measures the amount of water used to produce each of the goods and services we use.

Water footprints can be calculated for an individual person, a product’s entire value chain or a business, a river basin or a nation. The water footprint has three components: green, blue and grey, which provide a comprehensive picture of water use by defining the source of water consumed either as rainfall, groundwater, soil moisture or surface, and the volume of fresh water required for assimilation of pollutants.

Key definitions:

  • Green water footprint is water from precipitation that’s stored in soil and evaporated, transpired or incorporated into plants.
  • Blue water footprint is water that has been sourced from surface or groundwater resources and is either evaporated, incorporated into a product or moved from one body of water to another.
  • Grey water footprint is the amount of fresh water required to assimilate pollutants so they meet specific water quality standards.
  • Business water footprint is a measurement of the total water consumed to produce the goods and services a business provides.
  • Water footprint of a product is the volume of freshwater appropriated to produce the product, taking into account the volumes of water consumed and polluted in the different steps of the supply chain.
  • Personal water footprint is the amount of water a person consumes in their daily lives, including the water used in their homes, the water used to grow the food they eat and the water used to make the energy they use.

Why do we calculate water footprints?

Water is a vital natural resource that’s in decline due to global population growth, more water-intensive food, electricity and consumer goods production systems and due to climate change causing fluctuations to the water cycle. The United Nations (UN) projects by 2050 global water demand will grow by 55% and by 2025 two out of three people will live in a water-stressed region.

Water footprints give everyone – from individuals to businesses – a solid frame of reference that helps us all be more efficient and sustainable with our water use.

For businesses, calculating a water footprint can have a number of benefits. It helps reduce cost and improve efficiency at organisational, process and product levels and it can assess/ manage future business risks regarding water use. Water footprints can be used for supply chain reporting and can improve a company’s brand and credibility. A water footprint can also be used to achieve environmental and/or sustainability Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).

Businesses will be the key to solving current and future water challenges. Agriculture currently accounts for more than 70% of total global freshwater use, which makes water a serious concern for any business that relies on agricultural inputs. The manufacturing industry is expected to see the most significant growth in water demand with a projected increase of 400% between 2000 and 2050.

There are many steps that businesses can take to reduce the impact of their water footprint. This could include leak detection programs, water audits, install water saving utilities and installing smart meters to monitor consumption.

How can your business get involved?

The Carbon Trust is calling for businesses interested in water efficiency to pilot a new product water footprint certification and labelling scheme. The scheme is designed to help businesses demonstrate their leadership in sustainability by certifying the life cycle water use of their products to an international standard. Participating businesses will be awarded ‘measuring’ or ‘reducing’ certificates based on their effort to record and reduce water use.

Businesses interested in more information, or becoming a pathfinder for the Carbon Trust product water footprint certification and labelling scheme can visit the following webpage.

Want to find out about other environmental footprints? Take a look at some of our other blogs: ‘Reduce your ecological footprint at work’ and ‘10 reasons your business should calculate its carbon footprint’ in the Knowledge Centre, or you could download our eBook: ‘How to calculate your organisational carbon footprint’.


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