Forget carbon: you should be checking your water footprint, and new online calculator will help you do just that
The concept of water footprints — or “virtual water” — will tell consumers the amount of precious H2O that has been used in the manufacture of products they buy. As with carbon footprints, a “virtual water” figure will indicate the extent to which a particular product has cost the earth. And, as with carbon footprints, the message is clear: less is better.
A new website run by the University of Twente in the Netherlands, waterfootprint.org, gives ethically minded consumers a chance to work out the hidden implications of their shopping habits. Common commodities including groceries, clothes, stationery and electrical goods are evaluated according to a water footprint calculator. In each case, the water footprint covers both the manufacture and transport of the goods.
The results are striking. An apple weighing 100g has a water footprint of 70 litres, while a 125ml cup of coffee has a water footprint twice that size, 140 litres. But the water used in producing wheat or meat is much greater. A single kilogram of barley has a water footprint of 1,300 litres, while the industrial production of a kilogram of beef amasses a water footprint of 15,500 litres.
Poultry, meanwhile, has a smaller water footprint than red meat: producing a kilogram of chicken meat leaves a comparably much smaller water footprint of 3,900 litres.
Academics behind the “virtual water” calculations have also created a worldwide league table for the water footprint of different countries. The US is the biggest offender, with a water footprint of close to 2,500 cubic metres per year per capita, while Italy is a close second. Britain’s water footprint is relatively modest at 1,245 cubic metres per year per capita.
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