By now, we are used to hearing about our carbon footprint, but there’s another term that’s entering our environmental consciousness, and that’s our water footprint. Water footprint is the amount of water consumed either directly (from our household usage) or indirectly (consumed during the production of goods and services that we use.)
“Everyone understands that water is essential to life. But many are only just now beginning to grasp how essential it is to everything in life — food, energy, transportation, nature, leisure, identity, culture, social norms, and virtually all the products used on a daily basis.” – World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD)
Do you know what your water footprint is?
Water footprint can apply to individuals, families, businesses, cities, and nations, and the calculation also indicates the volume of water polluted over time due to the impact of industry or lifestyle.
There are several components to a water footprint: blue water, green water, and gray water.
- Blue Water: The volume of freshwater taken from (or evaporated from) the world’s surface and groundwater.
- Green Water: Water evaporated from water stored as soil moisture.
- Grey Water (a.k.a. greywater, gray water, etc.): The amount of water polluted through the production and consumption of goods and services. This volume also includes the amount of water necessary to dilute the pollutants to a level that maintains water quality standards.
There’s another term relating to water footprint, which can apply to individuals, businesses, nations, or goods and services: Water-neutral (similar to the term relating to carbon footprint, carbon-neutral). Water neutral applies when the negative effects of water use (or footprint) have been reduced, mitigated, or offset. Water offsets can be in the form of reclaiming the waste or gray water used, or funding an efficient water use or storage project off-site.
If you want to calculate the water footprint of your family or business (and I certainly hope you do), use the Water Footprint Network’s calculator and then take the steps necessary to reduce or offset your water usage. Be sure to check out the water footprint of common consumables, such as coffee, beef, etc. while you’re there.
Note: Jennifer Lance co-contributed to this article.