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The Water Footprint: Every drop counts!

CATEGORY: ⚐ EN + city + research + sustainability

The water footprint of an individual, community or business is defined as the total volume of freshwater that is used to produce the goods and services consumed by the individual or community or produced by the business.

The water footprint consists of three components: the blue, green and grey water footprint. The blue water footprint is the volume of freshwater evaporated from the global blue water resources (surface water and ground water) to produce the goods and services consumed by the individual or community. The green water footprint is the volume of water evaporated from the global green water resources (rainwater stored in the soil as soil moisture). The grey water footprint is the volume of polluted water that associates with the production of all goods and services for the individual or community. The latter can be estimated as the volume of water that is required to dilute pollutants to such an extent that the quality of the water remains at or above agreed water quality standards.

The past century has brought a lot of changes, like the explosion of human population, the creation of an expansive global economy and the increasing technological development. All of them have put unprecedented pressures on water. More specifically, our growing appetite for water-intensive food and manufactured good, the construction of large dams for hydro-electricity and irrigation, and the massive discharge of industrial waste into limited freshwater sources, have made water an increasingly limited and expensive resource.

Despite this obvious fact, people use large amounts of water: drinking, cooking and washing, but even more for producing things such as food, paper, cotton clothes, and almost every other physical product. This water can be named as virtual water.

The virtual water content of a product (a commodity, good or service) is the volume of freshwater used to produce the product, measured at the place where the product was actually produced.

It refers to the sum of the water use in the various steps of the production chain. The virtual-water content of a product can also be defined as the volume of water that would have been required to produce the product at the place where the product is consumed (consumption-site definition).


Image made by Virtual water |

Here are some examples of water footprints of daily products , calculated by Unesco-IHE Institute for water education, Netherland

Image made by Hoekstra and Chapagain 2008

These numbers are kind of shocking! Aren’t they?

So, let’s try to calculate our daily footprint and investigate the solutions to reduce the numbers as much as we can!

Image made by GOOD and Fogelson-Lubliner

Water footprints can be hard to calculate, depending on how far up the chain of production you go, since everything you eat and buy used some water to produce. With our latest Transparency, I give you some examples of how much water is used in some of your daily activities, so that you can begin calculate your footprint and try to reduce your gallons.

To help put things in perspective, think about this: your standard trash barrel holds 32 gallons and a mid-sized passenger car-if pumped full of water has room for a little more than 800 gallons. So, the difference in the amount of water it takes to produce a pound of chicken and a pound of beef is enough to fill almost two whole cars.

Which result have you got?

Let’s compare it with the water footprint calculation of one friend of mine, Croatian architect Ana Bilan that did some research in that field.

According to her calculations she was able to reduce her water footprint more than twice, which sounds really impressive!  So it was a matter of changing her habits, decreasing the direct water footprint and also the types of food she eats and products she uses to get a better result with indirect water Footprint.

Image made by Ana Bilan | research about MY WATER FOOTPRINT | for IED Torino Master SUS


If you become really interested in knowing how much water you personally use per day, you can follow this link and make a simple calculation:

Water footprint calculator (adults)

And you can also involve your kids into the idea of water preservation!

Water footprint calculator (kids)

Here are some facts to convince you to be a water guardian:

  • The average American lifestyle is kept afloat by nearly 2,000 gallons of H2O a day—twice the global average;
  • 46% of people on the earth do not have water piped to their homes;
  • Women in developing countries walk an average of 3.7 miles to get water;
  • In 15 years, 1.8 billion people will live in regions of sever water scarcity

And remember – Every Drop Counts!

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