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The Basics and Importance of Water Footprinting | Rio

17 September, 2021
The Basics and Importance of Water Footprinting | Rio

Water shortage is becoming a greater concern to individuals, the environment, and the economy. Therefore organisations are now looking into how their operations and supply chains affect water resources throughout the world. The organisational water footprint approach was developed to enable systematic measurement of water use at the firm level.


What Is Water Footprinting?

A water footprint shows the extent of water use in relation to consumption by people. The water footprint of an individual, community or business is defined as the total volume of freshwater used to produce the goods and services consumed by the individual or community or produced by the business.

A water footprint is an environmental indicator that measures the amount of freshwater utilised throughout a product or services full value chain. It can be used to calculate water consumption for nearly anything, from the production of a piece of clothing to a country's entire consumption, such as a harvest or a company's annual operations. The concept of water footprint was established in 2002 as a consumption-based indicator of water use that could provide important information in addition to standard production sector-based indicators.


Why Is Water Footprinting Important?

Freshwater is essential to our daily lives, but its supply is limited therefore, it is critical for organisations to measure their water footprint and take all necessary actions to keep it as low as possible. As a part of maintaining freshwater availability, strategies to keep water footprints low will be required soon. Now in a global economy, consumers are becoming more aware of how the products/service they purchase affect water security in other regions of the world.

Two-thirds of the world's major firms, according to the CDP, are exposed to water-related business risks that could result in a significant shift in their business, operations, or revenue. An organisational water footprint assessment offers a new perspective for developing a well-informed corporate water strategy.

Many companies will discover that their supply chain water footprint is much larger than their operational water footprint. As a result, companies may conclude that it is prudent to not only reduce their operational water use but to also address water risks associated with their supply chain water footprint 

Knowing the water footprint of the locations, streams and rivers where the operational and supply chain water footprints lie is just as important for any organisation. Water shortages or pollution can impede or halt production, cause supply chain issues, generate conflicts with other water users, such as farmers or local populations, and harm company reputation. Evaluating the 'whole picture' of water use and pollution can aid in identifying water-related business risks and the strategic initiatives needed to achieve long-term water use and resource efficiency. 


What are the different types of water footprints?

Green water footprint: refers to the amount of rainwater required to produce a product. It is mainly relevant for forestry, horticultural and agricultural products.

Bluewater footprint: refers to the amount of groundwater or surface water required to produce a product. Water is derived from sources such as aquifers, rivers or lakes. Domestic water use, industry, and irrigated agriculture can each have a blue water footprint.

Greywater footprint: refers to the amount of freshwater required to assimilate pollutants in the production process to meet water quality standards (such as the standards set by the US Clean Water Act).


How to get started with water footprinting

  1. Incorporate water data in your systems - big data can assist organisations from SMEs to large corporations in better understanding and managing their water usage. Our software, Rio can collate your water data and monitor performance to ensure reduction targets are being met.
  2. Measure it - While water auditing and monitoring are important first steps in identifying water consumption, it's also important to understand the difference between direct and indirect water use. Direct water usage may be efficiently and easily measured in-house as it is within the organisation itself, whilst indirect water usage is more difficult because it is spread outside the organisation e.g., the water used to produce the product or service.
  3. Recognise the value of water -Understanding the value of water encourages efficiency and better practices. Recognising the benefits and risks associated with water allows organisations to be proactive as opposed to reactive with their water management. 
  4. Use of new technologies - Adopting new technologies will be key to helping organisations reduce water consumption and improve their operational water use.

Leading organisations all over the world are realising that they must manage water risks by calculating water footprints within their sustainability strategy, just as they do carbon footprints. A centralised software system like Rio can help your organisation collate water data, set targets and monitor progress. Visit our website below to learn more about the other utility types our system can support you with.