Water use and freshwater depletion are key global issues. The United Nations Water Programme reports that water scarcity already affects almost every continent and over 40 percent of the people on Earth. Clear and consensual methods to quantify water footprints are needed to meet this global challenge. WULCA experts and eight industry leaders have therefore joined forces to develop a consistent approach to address the potential environmental impacts of water use throughout the life cycle of products and processes, taking into account resource extraction, processing, manufacturing, transportation, use and final disposal or treatment.
WULCA is an international working group that brings together one hundred experts from 21 countries focused on water use impact assessment from a life cycle perspective. Founded in August 2007 under the auspices of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)/Society for Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC)'s Life Cycle Initiative, WULCA's main goal is to provide practitioners from industry and academia with a consensual and harmonized framework to assess, compare and disclose the environmental performances of products and operations as they relate to freshwater use. Key method developers and stakeholders have been called upon to take part in this international collaborative effort.
Eight industry leaders from major economic sectors, including energy, water treatment, pulp and paper, chemical products, retail and food, are funding the targeted two-year project, which was initially funded by MITACS Elevate,Canada's research internship program through the International Research Centre for the Life Cycle of Products, Processes and Services (CIRAIG) at Polytechnique Montréal. The industrial partners are Cascades, Cotton Incorporated, Danone, ExxonMobil, GDF SUEZ, Hydro-Québec, Unilever and Veolia.
"Water is such an essential resource for humans and ecosystems that it is imperative that we work towards a robust and harmonized method of assessing the potential impacts of using it," affirmed WULCA project manager Dr. Anne-Marie Boulay, PhD.
Thus far, WULCA has developed a discussion platform, a framework of impact pathways and a detailed review and comparison of existing methods. The group's output has driven scientific research on water use in LCA that has already served as a reference to establish the ISO FDIS 14046 standard on water footprinting, which is currently in its final draft status (FDIS).
"WULCA's work is vital to further developments in water use impact assessment," said UNEP programme officer Dr.Llorenç Milà i Canals, PhD, who coordinates the Life Cycle Initiative. "With the increasing number of companies embracing water footprinting and LCA to better manage their water usage, the need for clear and consensual guidelines is critical. We are proud that the Life Cycle Initiative plays a part in this undertaking and invite businesses and governments to actively participate."
About the WULCA team
WULCA's mission is to provide guidance for academic and industry practitioners seeking to assess and compare the environmental performances of products and operations as they pertain to freshwater use. The WULCA working group is led by project manager Dr. Anne-Marie Boulay, PhD, of the CIRAIG and deputy project manager Dr. Stephan Pfister, PhD, of ETH Zürich. For more information, visit www.wulca-waterlca.org .
About WULCA's industrial partners
SOURCE: Polytechnique Montréal