How Big is Your Footprint?

Good to Know

Aug 31, 2012

When we think of our footprint we typically think of a temporary picture or impression left behind in the sand or on a wet sidewalk.  Most of us have experienced walking along a sandy beach while our foot sinks deeply into the soft sand leaving an impression behind us.  It doesn't last though; the tide is usually not far behind and washes over the print leaving no trace behind.

However, there is another type of footprint that doesn't wash away and has an affect on the earth's water supply - it is called a  "Water Footprint".  We all know the direct uses of water such as irrigation, washing dishes, laundry, drinking, cleaning and cooking, but have you ever stopped to think about the water that is needed for products and services such as paper, cotton clothes and food.  For example, it takes 15,400 liters or 4,068 gallons of water to produce 1 kg of beef  (2.20 lbs),  1 pair of jeans takes 10,977 liters (2,900 gal) of water. These indirect water uses are even higher than your direct home usage. Your water footprint includes the volumes of water consumption and pollution that are a part of your daily consumption, including both direct and indirect consumption. Quick tip:   (1 kilogram = 2.20 pounds, 1 liter = 1.05 quarts).   For a conversion calculator go to Metric Conversion.  

In 2002, the Water Footprint concept was developed by Professor Arjen Y. Hoekstra at UNESCO-IHE and was further developed by the University of Twente, the Netherlands.  Professor Hoekstra notes there is a growing interest in this concept as it becomes more apparent that human impact on freshwater systems can be linked to human consumption and issues like water shortages and pollution are better understood when you examine the production and supply chains.  In addition, local water depletion and pollution are being connected with the global economy.  Countries are extending their water footprint by importing water-intensive products from other countries putting pressure on the water resources from the exporting regions while many of these regions do not have advanced water management systems or controls.  

To find out what your water footprint looks like, click on Water Footprint  to take a quick water footprint survey.  It will calculate your total water footprint for one year.  It will also show you which food category is contributing to your highest consumption of water; something to think about at your next trip to the grocery store.

If you'd like to learn more about the Water Footprint go to Water Footprint Network.   They also offer an iPhone app called Waterprint that calculates how much water is used in your daily activities including what you wear, eat and drink.  It also has a Waterprint calculator that tells you how much water it takes to grow a banana, manufacture a Tshirt and more.