Friday, 22 March 2013

Sustain has measured the (hidden) water we take with our food

imageSustain, the resource efficiency and sustainability consultancy, has developed a water footprint food calculator that uses the precise ingredients of any meal together with its country of origin to give the most accurate reading to date of a meal’s water footprint. (A water footprint is the total volume of water it takes to produce items used or consumed).

Last November I reported that Sustain had won a grant from the UK government’s Technology Strategy Board (TSB) to develop the UK’s first water footprint database. The footprint food calculator is a spin-off from that project. According to Dr Craig Jones, Sustain’s principal associate “We realised that although there are a variety of water footprint food calculators available, not one calculates the footprint of an entire meal recipe”.

It’s a potential issue in the UK because, according to the Environment Agency, in 2012 the country experienced drought on one in every four days and could experience a severe short-term drought every 10 years. In the next 40 years some river flows could be reduced by up to 80% during the summer, putting pressure on water availability.

Average household water use in the UK is around 150 litres per person per day, but UK consumption of products from other countries means that each English citizen effectively uses around 4,645 litres of the world’s water every day. imageJust a small latte needs 710 litres of water to produce so to understand how to reduce our use of water, we need to measure this ‘embedded’ water. “Our aim,” said Dr Jones, “is to make the term ‘water footprint’ as well known, and as well understood, as the term ‘carbon footprint’”

The calculator is available to download from


Review:  The focus on CO2 emissions and climate change gets a lot of attention, particularly in this blog, but mostly in terms of efforts to reduce the impact. Since we, as a planet, are singularly failing to make much headway in that respect, we’re increasingly going to have to address the consequences.

One of those is that the global demand for water, already under pressure, is going to become more acute due to the disruption that climate change will bring. It’s already apparent in the UK, which seems to be stuck in a cycle of floods and droughts.

So this calculator should help raise awareness – 710 litres for one cup of coffee certainly made me think.

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