Water Footprinting, Water Labeling and Water Stewardship

If you live in the U.S., your Water Footprint is about 2,480 cubic meters/ year.
In China? 700 cubic meters/person/year. In the UK? 1,245.

In the coming years, water scarcity will become a greater issue around the world, and a new report created by the Food Ethics Council and London-based health and food organization Sustain calls for water footprint labeling on food and other goods.

Photo Credit:astrogrlThe rising tide of Water Footprint Labeling
The rising tide of Water Footprint Labeling

Everything we do or use has a Water Footprint, meaning the volume of water needed to produce a commodity. For instance, it took about 100 liters of water to produce the coffee you had for breakfast. And around 10,000 liters to produce the steak you’ll have for dinner.

The report took into account how much water is used, where it comes from, how using it affects the local environment, how else it could be used and how decisions are made about how the water is used.

It is estimated that 86% of worldwide freshwater use goes to agriculture (including food, fuel, and textiles), so it follows that with use and profit comes responsibility for conservation and stewardship of that water.

The Food Council report for Sustain concluded that while knowing the water footprint of a product or food is useful, educational, and promotes responsible consumer choice; just water labeling individual items may focus too much on the details and miss the bigger picture. The objective water footprint information does not take into account any of the social, ethical or political factors related to the water used to produce that item.

In the end, the report suggested that a comprehensive water stewardship labeling system would best address the issue of water sustainability- meaning that water labels should reflect how well the company is doing at conserving water overall, rather than the limited measure of how much water it took to produce a specific item.

A rise in public awareness about the hidden water used to create everyday food and products could lead to important action. Currently, companies that are conscious of water management and take action are able to do something about their own supply-chain, but single-company action does not necessarily keep others from overusing a public or shared water supply. Water labeling could serve as a catalyst for consumer understanding and create a call to action for governments and businesses on larger water stewardship programs. The only current factor is supply scarcity.

Understanding through Water Footprint measurement, education through Water Labeling and action through high level, comprehensive Water Stewardship are the future of water. Far from being a limiting prospect, this has the potential to lead to more efficient and sustainable production of everything we use today and everything we create in the future.


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  1. Thank you for posting this article. Finally people are just starting to think that maybe bottled water really isn’t good for their environment. But the problem is so huge and the supply of water is a looming crisis that is not getting the attention it needs for us to do something before it becomes an emergency. Articles like this help to bring it to the attention of the masses. Keep up the good work!

  2. Hi sweta- Water Labeling means putting a label on a product showing how much water is used in the production, transport, or use of a product/food. It would be like a nutrition label that breaks down the calories, sugars and fats, but as a water label it would list something like:
    Production: 35 gallons
    Transport: 6 gallons
    Use: 3 gallons
    Total Water Footprint: 44 gallons.

    There are no water labels right now that I know of, so the particulars of what they would list and how they would list it are not set. Hope that helps.

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