Water Footprint

Water Footprint I 

An Introduction to the concept of the water footprint

What is a water footprint? 

-The water footprint is an indicator of freshwater use that looks not only at the direct water use of a consumer or producer but also at the indirect water use. (1)

-The water footprint of a product is the volume of freshwater used to produce the product, measured over the full supply chain. (1)

-It is a multidimensional indicator, showing water consumption volumes by source and polluted volumes by type of pollution; all components of a total water footprint are specified geographically and temporally. (1)

Water footprint also shows what type of water is used for goods and services. There are three water footprints;

The Green water footprint is water from precipitation stored in the soil’s root zone and evaporated, transpired, or incorporated by plants. It is particularly relevant for agricultural, horticultural, and forestry products. (2)

The Bluewater footprint refers to the consumption of blue water resources (surface and groundwater) along the product’s supply chain. ‘Consumption’ refers to a loss of water from the available ground-surface water body in a catchment area. Losses occur when water evaporates, returns to another catchment area or the sea, or is incorporated into a product. (3)

The Greywater footprint refers to pollution and is defined as the freshwater volume required to assimilate pollutants’ load given natural background concentrations and existing ambient water quality standards. (1)

Direct and indirect water use 

-The water footprint looks at both direct and indirect water use of a process, product, company, or sector. It includes water consumption and pollution throughout the full production cycle from the supply chain to the end-user. (2)

-It is also possible to use the water footprint to measure the amount of water required to produce all the goods and services consumed by the individual or community, a nation, or all of humanity. This also includes the direct water footprint, which is the water used directly by the individual(s), and the indirect water footprint – the summation of the water footprints of all the products consumed. (2)



The relation between consumption and water use

The interest in the water footprint is rooted in the recognition that human impacts on freshwater systems can ultimately be linked to human consumption and that issues like water shortages and pollution can be better understood and addressed by considering production and supply chains as a whole,” says Professor Arjen Y. Hoekstra, creator of the water footprint concept. (2)

Agriculture and The Water We Eat

-70% of the world’s surface is covered by water. However, only 2.5% of all water is fresh. Modern societies need lots of fresh water for industrial, municipal, and agricultural use. Demands are varied, from hydro energy, drinking, irrigation to sanitation. (4)

-According to FAO Aquastat, agriculture consists of 69%, industrial usage forms 19%, and municipal usage presents 12% of global water withdrawals in the world. All these uses place pressures on water quantity and water quality. (4)

-Even if water has the potential to be a renewable source, it is limited. Today human use in an unsustainable way, pollution, and climate change put water resources under stress. When we consume food, we also consume some embedded water. This water can also be called virtual water. (5)

-Agriculture is the biggest user of the world’s freshwater resources. Some types of diets are more water-friendly. Producing meat, milk, and sugar typically require more water than producing cereals and requires different water management styles. To make 1 kg of beef, we need 15.400 liters of water, while this figure is 822 for one kg of apple. (6)


Water & SDG’s

SDG 6: Clean Water and Sanitation 

Societies need lots of freshwater for industrial, municipal, and agricultural use. Demands are varied, from hydro energy, drinking, irrigation to sanitation. While substantial progress has been made in increasing access to clean drinking water and sanitation, billions of people—mostly in rural areas—still lack these essential services. Worldwide, one in three people does not have access to safe drinking water. Two out of five people do not have a primary hand-washing facility with soap and water, and more than 673 million people still practice open defecation. (8). SDG6 aims to ensure access to safe water sources and sanitation for all (9). The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the critical importance of sanitation, hygiene, and adequate access to clean water to prevent and contain diseases. Hand hygiene saves lives. According to the World Health Organization, handwashing is one of the most effective actions you can take to reduce the spread of pathogens and prevent infections, including the COVID-19 virus. Yet billions of people still lack safe water sanitation, and funding is inadequate. (8)


Start-ups: Is it the path to solve water challenges that we face?

Water is the source of life. It is also a driver for global economic prosperity. However, our water system is under threat worldwide. 38% of water bodies in the European Union are significantly under pressure because of agricultural pollution. In the United States of America, agriculture is the primary cause of river pollution. In China, a significant proportion of surface water contamination is caused by agriculture. In low-income and emerging countries, the main concern is untreated municipal and industrial wastewater (7). We need to tackle the challenge of water. The technology could help achieve some objectives for better usage of water sources and create more sustainable ecosystems. Start-ups, as they adapt quickly, pivot faster, use technology, and get knowledge generated by data, could play a critical role in this transformation. We have worked on a shortlist of start-ups that provide solutions for water-related problems.  You can find three of them below.



–Babilônia a farming company founded in São Paulo in 2017 and engaged in urban farming.

-Babilônia helps companies farm 100% local, 100% pesticide-free, and 100% fresh vegetables within their idle spaces, reusing their organic waste and saving water.

-They continuously develop, test, and use technology to pursue even higher sustainability and production automation standards.



-Sensoterra is a smart farming company founded in the Netherlands in 2014, offering technology and irrigation systems.

– Sensoterra develops wireless soil moisture sensors for smart farming and landscaping optimization. They help growers to make effective irrigation decisions for less water use and better yields.

-Empowering better decision-making for land management through smart soil moisture measurements.



-HydroIQ was founded in 2017. In 2017, they founded Hydrologistics Africa because of their experiences growing in Kenya and living in Nairobi’s capital city. Like in most developing countries, water accounts for 11% of family income, yet three or more days a week, water taps are dry.

-For the families, 50% of potentially available water is needlessly lost before reaching the consumer.  Lack of transparency results in the low collection of bills and non-payments, especially when people have to pay for water they didn’t receive.

-HydroIQ helps water suppliers, property managers, and consumers to automate metering, billing, payments, and customer service while ensuring transparency across the water distribution network.