Move Over, Carbon Footprint: The Water Footprint is Coming


Carbon footprints, defined by the U.K.’s Carbon Trust as “the total set of GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions caused directly and
indirectly by an individual, organization, event or product,” have recently become important to environmentally-conscious companies. Just last month, U.K. retailer Continental Clothing added carbon footprint labels to its products. A number of food companies also post carbon footprint information on their nutritional labels.

But carbon footprints miss an important factor in product sustainability: water use. Enter the water footprint, defined by the Water Footprint Network as the “total volume of freshwater that is used to produce the goods and services consumed by the individual or community or produced by the business.”

Finnish food company Raisio is taking the lead with water footprint labeling by posting information on the packaging of its Elovena oat flakes.  The flakes’ water footprint label–the first of its kind–details water use throughout the supply chain, including water that plants use for growth, water used in production, and wastewater. Based on Raisio’s calculations, the flakes use 101 liters of water per 100 grams. In comparison, a single 70 gram apple uses 70 liters of water. Beef sucks up a whopping 1,600 liters of water per 100 grams.

Raisio had to get creative with its calculations since there isn’t an internationally established formula or product label for water footprints. The company used evaporation data from the Finnish Meteorological Institute as well as oat crop water data from contract farmers. 

The Alliance for Water Stewardship is working on a formula for water footprint product labels, but in the meantime you can calculate your personal footprint here.