Why a Water Footprint Network?

The interest in the concept of the water footprint and the accompanying methods and tools is overwhelming. This interest 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. It is increasingly acknowledged that local water depletion and pollution are often closely tied to the structure of the global economy. Many countries have significantly externalised 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 organisations increasingly recognize their role in the interplay of actors involved in water use and management.

The basis for the water footprint concept and methodology has been laid by prof. Arjen Hoekstra at UNESCO-IHE and further developed at the University of Twente, the Netherlands. The concept and methods have been firmly established in scientific literature. By today, hundreds of institutions actively apply the water footprint assessment methodology and contribute to further developing it. The interest focuses on questions such as: How to implement proper water footprint accounting in the context of my country or organisation? How to identify the spots where water footprints have the largest impact? How to reduce and possibly offset those impacts?

A big gap has grown between the demand for support in application and implementation and the capacity to supply this support. Besides, there is a need to bring together in a structural way developers of methods and tools and institutions that seek application. In order to coordinate efforts to further develop and disseminate knowledge on water footprint concepts, methods and tools, a number of institutions have taken the initiative to establish a Water Footprint Network. Unique to the network is that it brings together partners from diverse origins: knowledge institutions, non-governmental sector, private sector, governments and UN.


The mission of the Water Footprint Network is to promote the transition towards sustainable, fair and efficient use of fresh water resources worldwide by:

  1. advancing the concept of the ‘water footprint’, a spatially and temporally explicit indicator of direct and indirect water use of consumers and producers;

  2. increasing the water footprint awareness of communities, government bodies and businesses and their understanding of how consumption of goods and services and production chains relate to water use and impacts on fresh-water systems; and

  3. encouraging forms of water governance that reduce the negative ecological and social impacts of the water footprints of communities, countries and businesses.


The Water Footprint Network undertakes the following concrete activities:

  1. developing standards (methods, guidelines, criteria) for water footprint accounting, water footprint impact assessment and the reduction and offsetting of the negative impacts of water footprints;

  2. developing practical tools to support people and organisations interested in water footprint accounting, impact assessment and water footprint reduction and offsetting;

  3. providing for, or arranging for third parties to provide for, meetings, publications, education, research and development with regard to the water footprint concept;

  4. promoting the exchange, communication and dissemination of knowledge about water footprint;

  5. supporting government bodies, international institutions, non-governmental organizations, businesses and other organizations in implementing water footprint accounting and developing a sustainable and fair water policy; and

  6. providing advice on the application of the water footprint and by checking and certifying the use of the water footprint.

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