By now, we’re all familiar with the idea of a carbon footprint — and the fact that Americans have the largest carbon footprints in the world. But what about water? The truth is that Americans are even more wanton water-users than they are carbon emitters. To wit: Did you know that every year, Americans use three times the water as the French, even though our per capita GDP’s are comparable? And it’s not because the French don’t bathe — the trend holds when you compare us to almost all developed countries.
All those facts are laid out in this brilliant interactive infographic (refreshingly built in HTML5) by Harvard School of Design Students Joseph Bergen and Nickie Huang, which is the grand prize winner of Visualizing.org’s World Water Day Challenge, which asked people to create the most impactful infographic they could about the world’s water woes. (For their troubles, Bergen and Huang will get $5,000 from GE.). It does a superb job at showing exactly how water is used — and wasted — all across the world.
The first section allows you to compare the water use between different countries. Here in the U.S. we use 4,382 liters of water a day (that’s a little more than 1,000 gallons). Even in other industrialized nations like the United Kingdom, they’re using a mere 539 liters a day per person. And that’s nothing compared to Uganda’s 28 liters a day per person.
Where Bergen and Huang’s graphic really excels is in how it explains embodied–or virtual–water. Every consumer good required some amount of water to produce and that’s how U.S. residents manage to rack up such high water footprints. A kilo of coffee beans took 21,000 liters of water to grow; a kilogram of beef required 60,000 liters. Drink some coffee or eat some beef, you’re inflating your own water footprint.
Check out the interactive version here.