The water footprint of a business: taking a supply-chain perspective
The water footprint of a business - that is its 'corporate water footprint' - refers to the total volume of fresh water that is used directly and indirectly to run and support the business. It consists of two components:
When consumers use the products from a business, there can also be a water footprint in the end-use stage. Think about the water pollution that results from the use of soaps in the household. In this case one can speak about the end-use water footprint of a product. This footprint is not part of a business’s water footprint, but it is part of the consumer’s water footprint. That does not mean that the business can withdraw from some responsibility about what happens in the end-use stage.
A blue, green and grey water footprint
Water use is measured in terms of water volumes consumed (evaporated) and/or polluted per unit of time. Both the operational and supply-chain water footprint split up into three elements:
The water footprint specifies water use in space and time
The water footprint is a geographically explicit indicator, not only showing volumes of water use and pollution, but also the locations and timing. The ecological or social impact of a water footprint obviously depends not only on the volume of water use, but also on where and when the water is used.
Water footprint accounting in private and public sector
Water footprint accounting is relevant for any sort of business, private or public. Business water footprint accounting can be applied for any coherent entity producing goods and/or services that are supplied to consumers or other businesses. It can be done for a private company or corporation, but also a governmental or non-governmental organization or a public utility. It can be applied to various levels of scale, for instance a specific division of a company, an entire company or a whole business sector. Water footprint accounting can also be done for a project (e.g. construction of a piece of infrastructure) or activity (e.g. the organization of a large sports event).
The water footprint of a product
By definition, the water footprint of a business is equal to the sum of the water footprints of the business output products. The supply-chain water footprint of a business is equal to the sum of the water footprints of the business input products.