We've all heard about carbon footprints and how we should reduce them so as not to worsen human-induced global warming. But have you also heard about water footprints?
Published by Wave Tribe
Powerful immense waves we ride when we surf
I haven’t given much thought to it until I recently came upon the topic on my newsfeed. Water is something we Americans take too much for granted. After all, with71% of the earth’s surface covered in water, it’s easy to think that we’d never run out of it. Even when surfing, the immensity of the waves one is riding on crowds out any thoughts from your mind except for the thrilling sheerness of it.
Yet here we are, in the early part of the 21st century, belatedly trying to find ways to reduce our environmental footprints in order for the earth to remain livable for all of us. And a key part of that is minding our own water footprint.
Importance of water
What is a Water Footprint?
According to the Water Footprint Network, the water footprint is the “measure of humanity’s appropriation of fresh water in volumes of water consumed and/or polluted.”
Simply put, it is the amount of fresh water needed by individuals, groups, or companies to produce a service or a product. Analogous to ecological and carbon footprints, this indicator is designed to summarize the contribution of a product or activity to the deterioration of the environment. The focus is on the consumption of a limited resource, water.
There are three types of water footprint: green, blue and grey. Green refers to the rainwater which is absorbed by plants and trees; blue refers to surface or groundwater resources; and grey refers to the amount of fresh water required to absorb pollutants in order to meet water quality standards.
For instance, global animal production has a large water footprint. It requires about 2422 Gm 3 of water per year. When broken down into components, 87.2% is green, 6.2% is blue, and 6.6% is grey water. In the beef cattle sector, particularly, the largest water footprint refers to the feed for the animals. That’s why beef has the largest water footprint among animal meat. There is too much water consumed just to produce the feeds needed to produce beef.
If we take it upon ourselves to limit wasteful use of water, that’s one less demand on the local water supply.
— Derek Dodds, Wave Tribe Founder
Wastefully Using Water
Now large water footprints aren’t just limited to meat production. Rich countries are also prone to having large water footprints.
Americans have one of the largest water footprints in the world. For instance, here are three water footprint facts to illustrate how wasteful we are with water.
FACT 1: Every year, the typical American uses roughly the same amount of water it would take to fill a swimming pool.
The average American uses 750,777 gallons of water per year. If that sounds like an extreme amount of hand washing and bathing, that’s because a water footprint assesses both “physical” water needs (drinking, bathing, cooking) and “virtual” water needs (what’s necessary to produce the goods and services we use).
Virtual water sounds like an abstract concept, but consider this: A pair of jeans requires more than 2,000 gallons of water to take it from cotton seedling to garment. However, about three-quarters of our water footprint is related to what we eat. For example, remember when I said that beef has the highest water footprint among animal meats?
Well, just six ounces of beef is equivalent to a 674-gallon footprint and that covers everything from a cow’s water consumption to the water used to produce its feed.
Americans roughly use the same amount of water to fill a swimming pool
FACT 2: If every American household eliminated just one load of laundry per week, 3 Billion Gallons of water can be saved.
We’re too obsessed with washing our clothes. In these days of synthetic textiles, over-washing is bad for the planet. That’s because modern clothes are made of microfibers that easily come apart and add to the plastic pollution of our oceans.
Furthermore, at least 40% of our clothes could actually be worn again before laundering. In fact, in a 2013 study, participants were actually able to wear the same pair of jeans five days a week for three months without laundering them. And nothing happened: no flagrant odors, visible dirt, or disgusted passersby.
Eliminating one load of laundry can save billion gallons of water
FACT 3: Shaving one minute off from showering saves 165 billion gallons of water a year.
We love to shower. And yet it’s an inefficient way of cleaning ourselves. It’s also energy-intensive. A lot of energy is required to treat, transport and heat water for bathing.
A greener shower is all about efficiency. Save teeth brushing and face washing for the sink. And cool it on the hot water. According to the data, the average household sends about five unused gallons down the drain per day during the heating process.
Reducing shower time can also save billion gallons of water
Climate Change and Our Water Footprint
Now this whole water footprint scenario would be less awful if we had lots of water that we can use. But as it turns out, only 1 percent out of the world’s water supply is freshwater. The rest of it is salt water, which isn’t much use to us except for our bros in the ocean. So our freshwater supply is not infinite and if we continue to use it wastefully, we’re going to be facing a water crisis at some point in the near future.
To make things even more difficult, the effects of human-induced global warming is creating a problematic feedback loop of droughts, water shortages and excessive water usage.
Agriculture uses about 70 percent of humanity’s freshwater supply to irrigate fields and grow the crops that feed us directly (vegetables and grains) and indirectly (feed for cows, chickens, and other livestock). Livestock farming, in particular, is wasteful. When more people eat beef for instance, the production demand on the water supply increases.
As a result, certain areas are experiencing water scarcity. According to the founder of the Water Footprint Network and University of Twente Professor of Water Management, Arjen Hoekstra, as many as four billion people worldwide are affected by severe water scarcity for at least a month on an annual basis.
If this continues, there will be dire consequences for us. Water scarcity can limit economic opportunities, degrade natural ecosystems, lead to loss of valuable ecosystems services, and have negative impacts on subsistence uses, such as access to drinking water and loss of local fisheries.
How to Reduce Our Water Footprint
Reducing our water footprints is one good response to this predicament. If we take it upon ourselves to limit wasteful use of water, that’s one less demand on the local water supply. Here are some ways to do that.
TIP 1: Discard sodas from your drinking diet.
Beverage production uses a lot of water. Fruit juices use up to 1200 cups of fresh water; a soda uses 265 cups; beer, 300 cups and coffee, 1,100 cups.
Drink water instead. Not only will it reduce your water footprint but it’s healthier for your body.
Reduce your water footprint by choosing to drink water over other beverages
TIP 2: Eat more veggies and fruits than hamburgers or steaks.
Beef is very costly. An ounce of beef is equivalent to 1700 cups of water. In contrast, tofu and beans come in around 400 cups per ounce. If you can’t do away with meat, eat chicken and eggs instead. They're only 250-400 cups per ounce.
Reduce your water footprint by eating more vegetables and fruits than steaks and hamburgers
TIP 3: Walk or bike rather than drive. Use mass transit if possible.
By reducing your fuel consumption, you can reduce the amount of water used to produce fuel and products.
Reduce your water footprint by riding a bike than driving your car
TIP 4: Lessen your paper use.
One sheet of paper needs 160 cups of water to produce. That's such a large amount for just a small piece. If you have to use paper, use recycled paper instead since they require less water during production.
Reduce your water footprint by using recycled paper
TIP 5: Collect rainwater and household gray water.
Rainwater and household gray water are useful for domestic purposes. Use this to water your yard or flush your toilets instead of relying on treated water from our pipes.
Reduce your water footprint by collecting rainwater and household gray water
TIP 6: Only wash when necessary, but not more often.
This is probably the most difficult thing to do if you’re accustomed to washing your clothes daily. But clothing can still be sharp between washings by brushing them with a valet brush and a damp rag. Less frequent washing also help make the clothes last longer. Check out other tips in this site to save water when doing laundry.
Reduce your water footprint by only washing clothes when necessary
Go Green Living
Viewed in another way, these tips are merely logical extensions of living sustainably. If one wants to live healthy and not be wasteful, these are just the basic things that one should be doing.
That’s what we stand for here in Wave Tribe. As a tribe of surfers, we’re bound by our drive for healthy living and nutrition. And as entrepreneurs, we’re motivated to produce sustainable surfing products or make them from recycled materials so they don’t negatively impact the ocean.
So the next time you plan an activity, eat out, or even go shopping for new surfing gear, you might want to consider the water footprint. It’s the least thing you can do for the environment.
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