We often talk about our carbon footprint – it’s a concept we’re familiar with out of necessity, because so much of what we do, or don’t do, affects our climate globally. But the same concept can be applied to water, whether it’s water out of the watercooler, irrigation water or washing water – nearly everything we do or consume is touched by water in some way and so it too has a footprint.

Building on the notion of virtual water first introduced by Professor Tony Allan in 1993, Professor Arjen Hoekstra in 2002 created the water footprint – a way of measuring how much water is consumed in the production of goods and services along the entirety of the supply chain. In the mid 2000’s global big-brand companies became more and more aware of their dependence on water and the water-related risks they faced, which in turn inspired Hoekstra in 2008 to create the Water Footprint Network  – a gathering of the brightest minds dedicated to showing how Water Footprint Assessment can help us move forward and overcome the challenges of unsustainable water use.

Their vision: ‘A world in which we share clean fresh water fairly amongst all people to sustain thriving communities and nature’s diversity.’

Their mission: ‘To use the water footprint concept to promote the transition toward sustainable, fair and efficient use of fresh water resources worldwide.’

So what can we do in our personal capacity to reduce our water footprint you might ask? Well there are two ways we can make a difference – directly and indirectly.

Directly we can reduce our own consumption by installing water-saving devices in our homes; we can make small changes like closing the tap while we brush our teeth; and we can use less water in our gardens.

Indirectly we have two options:  we can change what we consume – for example a shift from eating meat to becoming vegetarian, drinking tea instead of coffee, or better yet visiting the water dispenser more often and just drinking more plain water; or if these shifts seem too extreme, we can stay with what we consume, but choose those products (the cotton, beef or coffee) that has a lower water footprint. But this requires that we know more about the relevant products, and manufacturers aren’t always as forthcoming as they should be, so this is something else consumers can do – we can drive more transparency from the various key players.

Every action we take has a consequence – so let’s be sure to make it a positive one!