Groups to Determine How to Measure Water Footprint

Seven global groups, including the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, joined forces to set up the Water Footprint Network, with the aim of working toward a common approach to water footprint measurement, accounting, and reporting.

"The need for clear principles and tools for achieving and demonstrating progress toward sustainable water management is increasingly recognized," said Björn Stigson, president of the council. "This is a pioneering initiative, and WBCSD is proud to be a founding partner of the Water Footprint Network."

Joining the network builds on the work of the council's Water Project. Its Global Water Tool helps companies map their water use and assess risks. Globally, per capita availability of freshwater is steadily decreasing.

The council has long worked on tools for business to measure its impact on the environment and has previously released guidelines for measuring impact on ecosystems (The Corporate Ecosystems Services Review, jointly with the Meridan Institute and the World Resources Institute), on development (Measuring Impact), and on climate (Greenhouse Gas Protocol, with the WRI). Joining the Water Footprint Network extends that measurement work to water.

"WBCSD has been active on water issues for more than a decade," said James Griffiths, managing director of Water, Forests and Ecosystems at the council. "As water becomes more and more scarce around the world, all business use of it will be affected, and expectations that companies demonstrate sustainable water use will grow. A robust platform for water footprinting involving different leadership groups – including business –is going to be essential."

Other partners are the University of Twente in the Netherlands; WWF, the global conservation organization; UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education; the Water Neutral Foundation; the International Finance Corporation (part of the World Bank Group); and the Netherlands Water Partnership.

"The interest in the water footprint is rooted in the recognition that human impacts on freshwater systems can ultimately be linked to human consumption, and that issues like water shortages and pollution can be better understood and addressed by considering production and supply chains as a whole," said Professor Arjen Hoekstra, creator of the water footprint concept and scientific director of the Water Footprint Network.

"Local water depletion and pollution are often closely tied to the structure of the global economy. Many countries have significantly externalized their water footprint, importing water-intensive goods from elsewhere. This puts pressure on the water resources in the exporting regions, where too often mechanisms for wise water governance and conservation are lacking. Not only governments acknowledge their role in achieving a better management of water resources, also businesses and public-service organizations increasingly recognize their role in the interplay of actors involved in water use and management," he said.

"The concept of water footprint has gained huge credibility and buy-in from the business, governmental and civil society communities," said Derk Kuiper, executive director of the Water Footprint Network.

Membership of the Water Footprint Network is open to those working on water resources management: academic institutions, government agencies, nongovernmental organizations, businesses, public utilities, and UN organizations. Partner registration will start in a few weeks' time and will be announced on the network's Web site. The public launch of the network will be in December.

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