The Water Footprint: Obey Your Thirst

water-footprint.jpgWe’ve all heard of the carbon footprint, and many of us have heard of the ecological footprint, but the water footprint is less well known. Just as it sounds, the water footprint is defined as the total volume of freshwater that is used to produce the goods and services consumed by an individual, business or nation. You can measure the water footprint associated with making of a particular product, or we can measure the water footprint of the average citizen in the U.S. Conceptually it’s simple, but measuring is quite difficult…and the results are staggering.
It’s sort of shameful to say, but it comes as no surprise to me that we in the U.S. have the highest per capita water footprint on the planet. Each of us uses roughly 2480 cubic meters of water each year…it’s a little hard to picture, but suffice it to say that our footprint is roughly twice (2X) the average global citizen’s water footprint. In the wake of the Olympics, somehow it seems that we deserve the opposite of a gold medal for this distinction.

But like most environmental issues, the first step to reduction is awareness. The Water Footprint website does an excellent job of this, as it shows us how much water is required to produce many of our daily staples.
* The production of one kilogram (2.2 pounds) of beef requires 16,000 litres (4,210 gallons) of water.
* To produce one cup of coffee we need 140 litres (37 gallons) of water.
* 900 litres of water are required to produce 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) of maize (corn).
The facts are sobering. Especially when you consider that water is becoming an increasingly scarce resource, a resource that will be impacted severely and unpredictably as the effects of climate change unfold. Many experts believe that water is the new oil, both in terms of its value and in terms of how explosive it will become as a national security issue. And because water suffers from the same “tragedy of the commons” effect that has lead to high levels of CO2 in the atmosphere, we are beginning to see more and more privatization of water sources…which will certainly present its own set of problems as scarcity sets in. For a much more involved and informative discussion of the coming water crisis, visit the Abrams CleanTech Report.
So get familiar with your own water footprint, and that of your business, and consider the amount of water used to produce the staples that you consume. Consider what aspects of your life or production consume unnecessary amounts of water (a lawn perhaps?) and begin to get comfortable with cutting some of these from your life. It takes a while, but once you begin to gain an appreciation for the costs, it becomes a lot easier to make planet-friendly choices in the future.
eco-unit.jpgThis post originally appeared here. Kent Ragen is CEO of EcoUnit, the rewards program for eco-conscious consumers. Learn more and become a member at

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