News | November 23, 2011

Know Your Water Footprint


The growing scarcity of water in several parts of Africa is creating an imperative for businesses to better understand their operational water footprints. Climate change and population growth are expected to combine to exert critical barriers to commercial production as more regions become classified as water-scarce and water-stressed. Globally, water demand is expected to outstrip availability by a staggering 40% by 2030, and this situation will be far worse in Africa where urbanisation and an improving standard of living will add to the pressure on this finite resource.

In fact, the future is already here for many hotspots throughout the continent where, for example, many large cities that have relied on dwindling groundwater supplies now find themselves with critical shortages. By 2025 as many as 230 million people will be living in African countries facing water scarcity and a further 460 million will be in water-stressed countries.

The 2010 global report of the Carbon Disclosure Project on water clearly shows "that water is a significant and pressing issue for the world's largest companies, many of which report both detrimental business impacts from water and significant water-related business opportunities."

Scientific developments over the last ten years have highlighted the shortcomings of the more traditional approaches to the management of water resources. Driven by the worsening water crises, innovations have led to the more comprehensive and sophisticated Water Footprinting Methodology developed by the Water Footprint Network (WFN). This approach advocates a broader understanding of the impacts of consumption and leads to a more holistic water strategy for industries, factoring in supply chain demands and recognising three different types of water use: blue, green and grey. These three categories distinguish between consumption of water from surface waters and aquifers (blue), evaporative flows or rainwater that is stored in the soil as moisture (green) and volumes of water impacted by pollution (grey). By considering these various categories, together with both direct (operational) and indirect (supply chain) water use, water footprinting provides a means of accurately dimensioning the true water use of an activity.

Through water footprinting companies are able to better understand their current and future risks and construct an holistic water strategy to manage for and mitigate against these risks. The Global Water Footprint Standard, developed by the WFN and its partners of scientists, NGOs and large international companies, is rapidly gaining acceptance as the definitive methodology for defining, measuring and interpreting water use by industry. In many parts of Africa, including South Africa, water footprinting can be expected to offer the licence for industries to operate by providing a means to understand their usage pattern and solve water conflicts that may be are anticipated to occur in the future.

Talbot & Talbot can help you to determine and reduce your water footprint as they specialise in industrial and municipal water and wastewater management. For more information, visit

SOURCE: Talbot & Talbot