You’ve heard about a carbon footprint, and you might even be working to minimize yours. But what about your water footprint? Measuring your water footprint is another way of gauging the impact you have on the environment, and it’s not just about how long your showers are, or whether you let it mellow.
I recently took a Water Footprint Calculator test and was surprised that the questions also asked things like how much money I spent on pet food, whether I recycled fabrics, and how frequently I went shopping. I was glad to see that I was well below the national average in terms of my water consumption, but distressed to know that my lifestyle, which I consider fairly green, still accounted for about 1,500 gallons of water used per day! (The average is about 2,200 gallons per day.)
Want to know more about water footprint and its significance? Here are some interesting facts I dug up:
1. The concept of the water footprint is the brainchild of Arjen Hoekstra, a professor at a Netherlands university whose expertise is in water management. He created it in 2002 as a way to measure the amount of water used for our daily activities and to produce the goods we use and eat.
2. Through a program called Change the Course, 1,000 gallons are restored to the Colorado River Basin for each person who pledges to reduce their water footprint. So far the program has gotten more than 129,000 pledges, and through the help of corporate sponsors, more than 129 million gallons have been returned to the Colorado River Basin.
3. Some of the clothes you buy have a shockingly big water footprint. For instance, a pair of blue jeans takes 2,900 gallons of water to produce, and a cotton T-shirt takes 700.
4. The United States has the second largest water footprint per capita, after the United Arab Emirates. Among the bottom of the list? China and Bangladesh.
5. Some environmentalists are pushing for products to bear a water label, similar to labels that indicate fair trade products or energy efficient appliances. Transparency in how much water is used to make goods is particularly important since many people are unaware of the volume of water often required — for instance, did you know that it takes about 130 liters of water to make an average cup of coffee?
6. The crops with the biggest water footprint include the grass on which livestock grazes, cotton, soybeans, wheat, livestock feed, coffee, barley (used to make beer), and corn. Note that almonds didn’t even make that list.
7. Desalination — removing the salt from ocean water so it can be used — seems like an obvious solution, but it actually has some serious drawbacks. It’s costly, uses a lot of energy, and can be harmful to marine life. A better solution is to conserve the fresh water we do have.
To read more about why we should conserve water at all, check out Live Green’s Why should we conserve water?