SESHA 2012 Symposium Abstract

Water Accounting: From Conservation to Disclosure An Introduction to Water Footprinting

Walton, Christopher; Bates, Wayne
(Capaccio Environmental Engineering, Inc., Marlborough, MA)

Adequate supplies of clean, fresh water are essential for communities and businesses alike, however, increasing population, decreased quality of source water, and scarcity of supplies has made competition for water a reality in the new global marketplace. Large and small corporations are recognizing the value in proactive management of water use and realizing that ineffective management can lead to disruptions to business continuity, damage to corporate image, and threat of regulatory control. In addition, several drivers are leading corporations to take a closer look at water use from the perspective of sustainable operations. These drivers include shareholder pressure, water use restrictions, increased utility costs, and local issues. Traditionally, water management efforts have focused on point of use conservation strategies reflected in the reduce/reuse/recycle paradigm. These are familiar to most companies and vary from flow restriction (reduce) to on-site reclamation (recycle). However, the limitations of these strategies are evident in their local focus. To truly capture the impact of water use in business operations, the supply chain must be considered as well. New methods for understanding and tracking water use are being developed as more businesses seek to understand and manage their water use in a holistic way. The concept of a water footprint that captures on-site and supply chain water use is gaining momentum. A water footprint considers three categories of water use: blue, green, and grey. Blue water use is a measure of the quantity of freshwater supply used to make a specific product or good. Green water use is a measure of the quantity of rainfall associated with the making of a product or good. Grey water is a measure of the amount of fresh water required to assimilate the pollutants generated during the making of a product or good. Together these water use values are taken to represent the water footprint, which includes a much broader view of the total water embedded in the production of a product or good. Many executives at the board level are familiar with climate change and the practices of carbon footprinting. However, due to the complexity of water issues across the globe, water footprinting has received a lower priority in the corporate responsibility arena. With global water issues becoming more prevalent, those companies that gain an early understanding of the business of water accounting will have the opportunity to gain a significant business advantage over their competitors, especially industries with high-intensity water use. This presentation will review the current trends in water accounting and present an example water footprint calculation.