What is a Water Footprint?
Everything we use, wear, buy, sell and eat takes water to make.
The water footprint measures the amount of water used to produce each of the goods and services we use. It can be measured for a single process, such as growing rice, for a product, such as a pair of jeans, for the fuel we put in our car, or for an entire multi-national company. The water footprint can also tell us how much water is being consumed by a particular country – or globally – in a specific river basin or from an aquifer.
The water footprint is a measure of humanity’s appropriation of fresh water in volumes of water consumed and/or polluted.
The water footprint allows us to answer a broad range of questions for companies, governments and individuals. For example:
- where is the water dependence in my company’s operations or supply chain?
- how well are regulations protecting our water resources?
- how secure are our food or energy supplies?
- can I do something to reduce my own water footprint and help us manage water for both people and nature?
Depending on the question you are asking, the water footprint can be measured in cubic metres per tonne of production, per hectare of cropland, per unit of currency and in other functional units. The water footprint helps us understand for what purposes our limited freshwater resources are being consumed and polluted. The impact it has depends on where the water is taken from and when. If it comes from a place where water is already scarce, the consequences can be significant and require action.
The water footprint has three components: green, blue and grey. Together, these components provide a comprehensive picture of water use by delineating the source of water consumed, either as rainfall/soil moisture or surface/groundwater, and the volume of fresh water required for assimilation of pollutants.
Direct and indirect water use
The water footprint looks at both direct and indirect water use of a process, product, company or sector and includes water consumption and pollution throughout the full production cycle from the supply chain to the end-user.
It is also possible to use the water footprint to measure the amount of water required to produce all the goods and services consumed by the individual or community, a nation or all of humanity. This also includes the direct water footprint, which is the water used directly by the individual(s) and the indirect water footprint – the summation of the water footprints of all the products consumed.