The Water Footprint of products is an important but misunderstood indicator

Water footprinting is the future of water conservation.

The Water Footprint (WF) of a product, process or person provides an indication of how much fresh water is used, both direct and indirect, to produce a product, drive the process or lead a lifestyle.

Although it is a very important indicator it is often misunderstood. Popular media contribute to this misunderstanding as they often use the WF to illustrate the large quantities of water used to produce a product without explaining what the footprint actually means.

An example is a single kilogram of beef that has an average global WF 15 415 litres. This indeed sounds scary, but when one places it in context, the total WF includes 14 414 litres green water, 550 litres blue water and 451 litres grey water.

Green water is the evapotranspiration of precipitation (rain), blue water is the fresh water from dams, rivers and underground sources, while grey water is the amount of fresh water required to dilute polluted water to acceptable levels.

According to Frikkie Maré, a lecturer at the Department of Agricultural Economics at the University of the Free State (UFS), the WF concept provides a new look at water conservation and sustainability. “Although the WF is not an indicator of sustainable water use, it is a useful tool to calculate total water demand and is used in the estimation of sustainability. Traditionally, water conservation was focused on the direct water use of individuals, but the WF now provides a tool to focus attention on total water demand.”

The Water Footprint Network assists individuals with this new trajectory on the water conservation front with the personal water footprint calculator that allows individuals globally to determine their personal water demand through their direct and indirect water usage.

Maré believes this can cause the necessary paradigm shift in the aqua status quo by creating awareness among consumers on their total water demand.

Issued by The University of the Free State