The concept of water footprint isn’t quite as embedded in the consciousness as carbon footprint, but it’s something that’s gaining traction as governments, businesses and individuals face up to the looming water crisis. With measurement tools becoming more sophisticated and easier to use, anyone can now keep track of their water footprint and see what steps they can put in place to reduce how much water they use on a daily basis.
What is a water footprint?
Water footprint refers to the volume of water used from all sources both directly in terms of consumption and indirectly in terms of what is required in the global production of goods. Water is used in the production of most things including food, clothing, electronic goods and energy. In fact, it is this indirect use for production – also sometimes called virtual water use – that makes up the vast majority of the global water footprint. For example, it takes around 15,000 litres of water to produce a single kilogram of beef.
The water footprint is broken down into three components:
- Green Water Footprint – The amount of rainwater used (either consumed or evaporated) in either direct or indirect water use. Green water use is particularly high in agricultural production.
- Blue Water Footprint – The amount of freshwater used (either consumed or evaporated) in direct or indirect water use.
- Grey Water Footprint – The amount of freshwater needed to dilute pollutants so that water standards are met. This is something that is a feature of many industries, such as fuel, agriculture and fashion.
How water footprints are measured?
The water footprint is measured by calculating the total amount of water used both directly (water consumed for drinking, cleaning, etc. at household or organizational level) and indirectly (water used in the production of goods, energy, transport, etc. that is used and consumed).
Water footprints can be calculated at various different levels, for example national, regional/community, company/organization, household, individual and product/industry. So you can not only see what your individual water footprint is but also what the water footprint is for your country, your employer, and for various products you might consume. National water footprints are broken down into internal footprint (water sourced from inside the country) and external footprint (water sourced from overseas). The US is the biggest water consumer globally, with an average water footprint of 2,842 cubic metres per capita.
You can find water footprint measuring tools at:
- Water Footprint Network – Has a variety of assessment tools for businesses, individuals and countries, including both simplified and extended individual calculators.
- Water Footprint Calculator – Allows you to calculate your individual footprint based on your lifestyle choices and how water-sustainable your home is.
The usefulness of water footprints
With over 5 billion people – more than half the global population – at risk of facing water shortages in the coming decades, water footprints provide us with an important empirical resource when it comes to tackling these problems. Understanding water footprints helps us to:
- Better understand our water usage at the various levels, meaning we can more effectively make the necessary changes to reduce the pressure we put on water supplies.
- See which products and industries are the most and least sustainable in terms of water use. This in turn helps environmentally-conscious consumers make informed purchasing choices.
- Effectively monitor whether water-saving initiatives are working.
- See more clearly the link between global consumption and global water depletion. It is through presenting this data that campaigners can more effectively lobby for change at higher levels.
How to reduce your water footprint?
There are many ways that both individuals and businesses can work to reduce their water footprint, including:
- Having more water-sustainable buildings, which can include measures such as installing low-flowing taps and water recycling systems.
- Making lifestyle chances, for example moving to a vegan or vegetarian diet (the meat industry is one of the biggest water users) and making more water-conscious consumer choices (e.g. buying second-hand goods or from companies that have a lower water footprint).
- At the business level, reviewing your supply chain to see what changes you can make to reduce your water footprint.
Discover how we can help you calculate your water footprint by visiting Water Experts’ website If you would like help in reducing your water footprint, get in touch with us at Water Experts. We can offer expert advice, help you carry out a water audit and supply water-sustainable technology such as our SolarAQ drinking water systems.