We are all aware of the importance of water in everyday life. We see water as an unlimited resource and most of all it is free. Or is it? 

The majority of us use water for washing, cooking and drinking and general household use but we are not aware that this is only a small portion of fresh water that we really use. There is a lot of water that we use that we are not aware of and this is because it is  contained within the products that we consume,  it is for us invisible. A lot of water is used in the production of goods and especially in agriculture.  And not all product contain the same amount of virtual water.

The amount of virtual water that is contained in poultry products such as eggs or meat is much higher than what is contained in vegetables. A tomato Costs  13 L . of water while an hamburger 2400 l.  (Fao). Our consumption habits affects water resources locally as well  as in other parts of the world.

Water footprint does not necessarily depend on the type of product. Other factors need to be taken into account such as the geographical location. A certain crop may have a higher or lower water footprint depending on weather the area has enough water to sustain itself. A dry area may become unsustainable to grow certain crops and the costs will be to high for its environment.

 The concept of water footprint  (introduced in 2002 by Arjen Y. Hoekstra from UNESCO-IHE), measures the total volume of freshwater used to produce any goods consumed by an individual, business or community. It measures the volume of water consumed and or polluted per unit of time. “the water footprint of a product is the volume of freshwater used to  produce the product, measured over the full supply chain”.

 Hoekstra published a new book (The water footprint of Modern Consumer Society) where he explains how water plays a central role in our society and everything from agriculture to industry. “Water is Life” and “water is Energy” Nevertheless water is an intangible source and has been left out for too long  in the economic equation. Free market economy sees water as an unlimited source where the economic costs of its use and disposal are not taken into account for example in the case of pollution. This phenomenon has been going on for too long and free market capitalism has prevailed over political intervention on what is water management.  The market needs to grow crops in a certain area because there is a demand and therefore water levels decline or become polluted. Water appears to be abundant and unlimited because it is a renewable source at the same time water is free and it is taken for granted. Industry develops and cities grow where the consumption of water is not sustainable. Countries have independent political will and it is not possible to impose environmental considerations. Their agricultural policies are independent and in most cases are driven by economical concerns. However consumer are able to affect economical and environmental behaviour  if  more awareness is brought on certain issues such as water. Their choices may influence market decisions as it happened with animal issues for example.

In the UK WWF and Water Footprint Network is working on establishing an international framework to help improve water footprint around the world in collaboration with other multinationals such as Unilever they are working  on improving water footprint and to guarantee the sustainability of water usage. A recognition of “water stewardship” for these policies is then reported in the company’s brand which includes an annual publication of a report on its water footprint that certifies the company’s policies.