The Size of India’s (And Your) Water Footprint

While reading an article called “Water Footprints Make a Splash,” I was immediately intrigued by the concept of a water footprint. What exactly is a water footprint? Author Ben Block uses coffee to illustrate:

If the full water requirements of a morning roast are calculated – farm irrigation, bean transportation, and the serving of the coffee – one cup requires 140 liters of water.

Water footprints measure the complete cycle and at all levels of a water’s use. The Water Footprint website explains that

the water footprint is an indicator of water use that looks at both direct and indirect water use of a consumer or producer. 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.

And how does India’s water footprint fare? Block’s article reveals:

India, with 17 percent of the global population, has the largest water footprint in absolute terms. But its footprint represents only 13 percent of the world total. The United States, in comparison, comprises 4.5 percent of the world population and consumes 9 percent of the world’s water.

I honestly never considered what my individual water footprint may be. Using this handy calculator (which is the quick version of an extended calculator), I discovered that my footprint is an estimated 2342 cubic meters of water per year, as compared to the global average of 1243 cubic meters. The concept is both terrifying and overwhelming. I will never see the amount of water used from products and services I consume, and it is quite easy to plead ignorance of these numbers. Time to work on that water footprint…

The site did not provide suggestions for ways to reduce an individual water footprint, but there are some obvious methods (vegetarianism, reduce domestic water use, waste less food, etc). The more complicated thought is the water footprint of industries or nations. Consider a whole supply chain in the production of a good, and the amount of water is probably astronomical. And India, with its fragmented supply chains, is likely not using its scarce water efficiently. Will we need to restructure business processes and production methods to take the water footprint into account? Sounds like another issue for social entrepreneurs and CSR fans to apply their innovative approaches to.

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