Water is a crucial resource for every business, whether you sell food, electronics, clothing or other consumer items.

A business’s water footprint is a measurement of the total water consumed to produce the goods and services it provides. It is a combination of the water that goes into the production and manufacturing of a product or service and the water used throughout the supply chain, as well as during the use of the product.

Understanding your water footprint is to understand where water is important to your business and how it relates to the products you are making.

The studies we’ve done with the Water Footprint Network have provided us with valuable insights that will help us to further reduce our water footprint along the entire value chain

Phil Chamberlain, head of sustainable business development and board member of the C&A Foundation

The World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report consistently lists water crises among the highest impact global risk. Until now, water has been treated as a free raw material. Today, companies are starting to realise that mismanagement of water can damage their brand, their credibility, their credit rating and their insurance costs.

Unless you know how much water you are using – and how much is available in the river basins in which you and your suppliers operate – it is impossible to know whether you are using it sustainably or whether your business could face water-related business risk.

Leading companies increasingly recognize that business as usual approaches to water management are no longer sufficient

Paul Simpson, CEO of Carbon Disclosure Project

The water footprint enables companies to find out where and when water is used in their business. The water footprint of a company includes its direct (operational) water footprint and its indirect (supply-chain) water footprint.

The direct water footprint represents the water footprint resulting from the operations of the enterprise under consideration, i.e., activities directly related to production or manufacturing and from overhead (supporting services) activities, e.g. the water footprint of offices, canteens or horticulture. The indirect water footprint represents the water footprint of the inputs and products used in the production activities of a company.

Water Footprint Assessment has given us more direction for our product stewardship efforts which will support our overall business sustainability

Neha Bhandari, Tata Chemicals Limited

Water Footprint Assessment of a business offers a new perspective for developing a well-informed corporate water strategy. Companies have traditionally focused on water use in their operations, not in their supply chain. Many companies will discover that their supply chain water footprint is much larger than their operational water footprint. As a result, companies may conclude that it is prudent to not only reduce their operational water use but to also address water risks associated with their supply chain water footprint.

According to Carbon Disclosure Project’s (CDP) two-thirds of the world’s largest companies report exposure to water related business risk that could generate a substantive change in their business, operations or revenue.

It is not enough to know your water footprint. It is as crucial for any business to know the water footprint of the regions and river basins where their operational and supply chain water footprints land. Water scarcity or pollution can disrupt or halt production, cause problems within the supply chain, lead to conflict with other water users, such as farmers or communities in the area, and damage corporate reputations.

Understanding the cumulative picture of water consumption and pollution can help identify water-related business risks and the strategic actions required to achieve sustainable water use and water resource efficiency.

Calculate your company’s water footprint

Use our free Water Footprint Assessment Tool to get an insight into how you use water throughout your supply chain. Apply Water Footprint Assessment to a product, facility or to your entire company.

Greenhouses in San Agustin near Almería, Andalusia, Spain (36°42’ N – 2°44’ W) © Yann Arthus-Bertrand / Altitude

Water stewardship

Leading companies around the world are realising they must manage these risks by putting the water footprint on their agendas, just as they do their carbon footprint. Front runners that disclose their water footprints before others do, that set clear targets to reduce their water footprint, and pay special attention to those areas where problems of water scarcity and pollution are most critical, can turn these risks into a competitive advantage and become leaders in water stewardship.

Concern about water in the private sector is rising rapidly. Companies worldwide are recognising that water is an essential ingredient in their business operations and the lack of access to sufficient water quantities or quality is posing a material risk to a growing number of companies. Water stewardship is one way a company can manage the complexities of balancing their own water use with the needs of communities and nature.

Good water stewards understand their own water use, catchment context and shared risk in terms of water governance, water balance, water quality and important water-related areas; and then engage in meaningful individual and collective actions that benefit people and nature

Alliance for Water Stewardship

Becoming a water steward allows companies to understand all their water related risks – physical, reputational, financial and regulatory – and implement strategies that minimise those risks and promote the business’s long-term sustainability.

Water Footprint Assessment provides a sound foundation of quantitative analysis, which can be used to develop a corporate water strategy and become a water steward.

A Water Footprint Assessment includes two components: the production assessment and the geographic assessment. Each of these contributes to water stewardship.

The production assessment enriches the dialogue between companies, their suppliers and customers by quantifying the water footprint of operations and the supply chain and identifying at what stage within the value chain the water footprint is in a hotspot. A hotspot is where the water footprint is unsustainable or can be reduced or avoided altogether.

A company can use Water Footprint Assessment to compare its direct and indirect water footprint and the sustainability of its various water footprint components to help prioritize response strategies and set water footprint reduction targets which become part of the company’s corporate water strategy.

Once hotspots are identified, the geographic assessment can be used to understand how water is allocated between different uses in a catchment or river basin. The assessment can inform collective action by helping companies explore their water footprint and the opportunities to reduce it. It supports civil society engagement in river basin dialogues by building their understanding of the issues and it assists government in having a comprehensive picture of water use within the basin.

Water stewardship is a collaborative and multi-stakeholder approach that aims to achieve social, environmental and economic benefits. By using Water Footprint Assessment, a company can ensure that all stakeholders are well informed and good river basin governance is developed.

Additional information on water stewardship can also be found at:

Alliance for Water Stewardship: provides a globally-consistent framework that outlines the expectations of responsible water stewardship.

CEO Water Mandate Water Disclosure Guidelines: provides comprehensive guidelines of what needs to be measured, monitored and disclosed by companies reporting on water.

Calculate your company’s water footprint

Whether you are a partner or not, we invite you to use our free Water Footprint Assessment tool to get an insight into how you use water and to see how we can help.

Apply Water Footprint Assessment to a product, facility or to your entire company. Calculate the green, blue and grey direct and indirect water footprint and explore the sustainability of the different components to prioritise where action should be taken.

Start Production Assessment with the  Water Footprint Assessment tool.