World Water Week is an annual event run by Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) that is dedicated to transforming global water challenges. It’s taking place this year from 27th-30th August.
Speakers and attendees come together from all over the world for a programme of seminars, sessions, exhibitions and press conferences. Seminars this year will cover a broad range of water-related topics from ‘Working towards being water positive’ as presented by IKEA to ‘Driving water transformation through the power of diversity and inclusion’ by Xylem to ‘Is asparagus to blame? A value chain review’ by Alliance for Water Stewardship (just a couple of our favourites). With a strapline of ‘It is more than a moment. It is a movement…’ the event organisers believe that water is key to future prosperity and that together we can achieve a water wise world.
For those people (like us) who can’t make it to Stockholm, we thought we’d take a closer look at one of the key themes that is up for discussion – water usage in food production.
There’s lots of advice out there on how to reduce your water usage at home and in your business – see save water, save money in your business as an example. But there is less focus on the water usage that occurs every day just through our food choices.
31 World Water Week 2019 sessions are dedicated to agriculture, which is accountable for 70% of freshwater withdrawals. This focus comes as food habits across the world are becoming more water intensive, with large parts of the world eating more meat and cheese that need lots of water for their production.
What’s your Water Footprint?
SIWI feel that the first step in changing these trends is to raise awareness through the concept of water footprints. A water footprint measures the amount of water used to produce each of the goods or services we use as a consumer or that we provide as businesses.
Most people think about how much water they use from the tap. This is roughly 140 litres a day after drinking, washing, taking a shower, etc. You might be surprised to learn though that a single person’s water footprint could be as much as 5000 litres a day. This usage looks at invisible water – the water that is used to produce our food and everyday items such as clothing.
Alan Shapiro explains this in a bit more detail in his Ted Talk below:
You can calculate your water footprint – both personal and business – on the Water Footprint Network here.
Water in the supply chain
Invisible water used in the supply chain makes up the majority of our individual water footprints. In a comparison from the Water Footprint Network, beef uses 15415 litres of water to produce, eggs use 3265 whereas vegetables only use 322!
Water usage also accounts for the water that is discharged and often pollutes freshwater supplies, which is often the case in the making of clothes.
So how is asparagus to blame when vegetables are less water intensive to produce? The World Water Week talk will look at the water consumption the increasing agriculture in Peru is using to allow them to export the vegetable to the European market. On average, vegetables use a lot less water to produce than meat, though not all of them – for example a single almond takes the equivalent of two toilet flushes to grow according to Alan Shapiro. They are also most commonly grown in California which often suffers from drought! The journey that food has to make before it ends up on our plate can also have a negative impact on the environment, and a drain on water.
Where to start when reducing your business water footprint
The food and drink federation is keen to promote water efficiency in its industry, highlighting: ‘All of us, whether at home or in the workplace, share a responsibility to use water efficiently and with due regard to the needs of others with whom we share this planet.’ in its ‘Every Last Drop – Why water matters’ campaign.
This forms part of its initiative Ambition 2025 and aims to promote careful management of water usage to ensure the long-term sustainability of the food and drink manufacturing sector.
Its key advice, which can be applied to any industry, is:
- Reduce the impact of water use along the supply chain – consider the water usage outside of your own business. How can you work with both suppliers and customers to encourage continuous improvement in their use of water?
- Manage water in your operations – introduce steps to reduce water in your business. Why not try putting up our water efficiency poster in your business as a starting point?
- Make water a boardroom priority – even if your ‘boardroom’ is just you! Consider how dependent your business and supply chain are on water and make plans to improve your business resilience.
- What every individual can do to save water – saving water at home is just as important as saving water in the workplace. Remember the motto: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle at all times.
Download the full guide here to see how you can apply their tips and advice to your business.
Other ways to reduce your water footprint
- Cut down your meat consumption – by making small changes to your eating habits you could save huge amounts of water. Alan Shapiro discovered that if he cut his meat eating habits down from once a day to once every two days he could cut his water footprint almost in half. Why not try Meat Free Monday to start with?
- Consider eating more locally sourced foods – take a closer look at the labels on your food next time you do a shop, or why not try a local fruit and veg market instead? The smaller the journey the food has had to make, the better. (And it’s likely they’ll use a lot less plastic packaging too which is always a good thing!)
- Become a Water Steward – the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) see businesses as key in supporting the sustainability of water and have developed a ‘water stewardship’ programme to help. Large corporations such as Coca-Cola have signed up, but there’s no reason why you can’t implement the good practice and lead the way for small businesses. Find out more about the framework here.
According to WWF ‘practically all businesses depend on water – and they can no longer take this crucial resource for granted.’ By continuing to use water at the rate that we are today combined with climate change, the future of all businesses could be at risk. According to the Water Footprint Network:
“Until now, water has been treated as a free raw material. Today, companies are starting to realise that mismanagement of water can damage their brand, their credibility, their credit rating and their insurance costs.
Unless you know how much water you are using – and how much is available in the river basins in which you and your suppliers operate – it is impossible to know whether you are using it sustainably or whether your business could face water-related business risk.”
Not to mention the effect that running out of water could have on our everyday lives…