Decoding Water FootprintsWater
Almost everything on our planet, with minor exceptions, utilizes water in one way or another. In addition to hydration, there are endless ways in which humans use water. The clothes we wear, the products we buy and the food we consume use our valued resource.
While the use of freshwater is undeniably essential in order to keep our world running, it seems that many consumers are unaware of the actual impact on the environment. Due to increased interest in environmentalism and sustainability, there’s a renewed effort for people and corporations to understand how their actions have a local and global impact.
Simply put, a water footprint is the volume of freshwater used to produce a product, for which that water is no longer available for immediate use.
It refers to the sum of the water use in the various steps of the production chain:
When and where the water was used is also considered, as a footprint includes both temporal and spatial dimensions. Further, it’s important to understand the differences of the various water footprints and their impact.
The Water Footprint Network, a group of organisations and professionals who are concerned about water scarcity and increasing water pollution levels, classifies three different types, noting on their website that:
Green water footprint is water from precipitation that is stored in the root zone of the soil and evaporated, transpired or incorporated by plants. It is particularly relevant for agricultural, horticultural and forestry products.
Blue water footprint is water that has been sourced from surface or groundwater resources and is either evaporated, incorporated into a product or taken from one body of water and returned to another, or returned at a different time. Irrigated agriculture, industry and domestic water use can each have a blue water footprint.
Gray water footprint is the amount of freshwater required to assimilate pollutants to meet specific water quality standards. The grey water footprint considers point-source pollution discharged to a freshwater resource directly through a pipe or indirectly through runoff or leaching from the soil, impervious surfaces, or other diffuse sources.
In a nutshell: green water is the volume of rainwater evaporated, blue water is the volume of surface or groundwater evaporated and gray water is the volume of polluted water.
Water footprints are important to both individuals, corporations and countries. Research from the University of Twente in the Netherlands finds that in order to produce 1kg of the following food, dramatic amounts of water must be used:
But water footprints are not just limited to food, as endless amounts of our valued resource is used for the production of our shoes, clothes, bags and other necessities for daily life.
So while humans will never stop eating, or utilizing products that are produced for our leisure and survival, it’s important for companies to decrease their water footprint, and for people to make everyday choices to turn the tide.
For consumers, small changes that may have big results includes shorter showers, not overwatering plants and using limited water to brush your teeth, just to name a few. The business community has a responsibility to reduce the water used along the supply chain, as well as documentation and certifying their water consumption to increase transparency.
For governments, the aim should be to reduce the public and municipal water footprint, in addition to being aware of practices both at home and abroad.
Globally, BGW 2008 & Infografik 2009 finds that the daily consumption around the world varies greatly. Per capita, the countries with the most use each day are: The United States of America (295 liters), Japan (278 liters), Italy (213 liters), Sweden (188 liters) and Germany (124 liters). The countries with the least daily use per capital are: China (59 liters), India (31 liters), Afghanistan (28 liters), Senegal (20 liters) & Ethiopia (9 liters).
Just as a footprint at the beach will eventually fade back into the sand, that may not be the case for our water footprints, especially as access to freshwater becomes more scarce. By educating oneself on the instances of where water waste occurs, that puts us on track to understand and solve the problems that we may face in the future.
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