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Water Footprints 101: A Beginner’s essentials

Eveliina Heikkala

Nainen sateessa järven rannalla

Water use, which can be presented as water footprint, is a part of the sustainability reporting for businesses. It’s one of the many environmental aspects that businesses nowadays measure. A key factor related to water use is water scarcity.

At Biocode, we utilized AWARE, a water use indicator, to measure the water scarcity footprint of our customer’s products. This article provides an overview of water footprinting and the AWARE method and discusses how to utilise the results. 

What to consider before calculating water footprint? 

Water footprints are used to measure the direct and indirect water use related to running a system or a process. You can use them in various contexts, such as by calculating the water consumption required to produce a product, run a company or maintain the daily life of your family. There is a variety of water use indicators for assessing different water related impacts. These impacts are, for example, water scarcity, water quality and impacts on human health.  

Water footprints are divided into direct and indirect water use. Direct water use refers to the water consumed directly, for example, in a production process or by an individual as drinking water. Indirect water use, on the other hand, refers to water required to produce ingredients as an example.

The type of water consumed can also be divided into three categories: green, blue and grey water.

  • Green water is rainfall or soil moisture evaporated from plants.
  • Blue water is surface or groundwater
  • Grey water is fresh water needed to assimilate pollutants from wastewater.

In the AWARE method, you only measure the blue water consumption. 

What is AWARE? 

AWARE (Available WAter REmanining) is a water use indicator. It represents how much water is relatively remaining on a certain area after the demand for human and ecosystem needs has been met. You can calculate AWAREs by multiplying the blue water consumption required by a regional AWARE factor.  

AWARE factors are provided at multiple different spatial and temporal resolutions:

  • country levels
  • watershed levels
  • monthly levels
  • annual levels.

Additionally, there are different factors for irrigation and non-irrigation water and a non-specified factor if the type of water is unknown.  

The AWARE method is aligned with the LCA methodology, and it incorporates the requirements presented in the ISO 14046 standard regarding water footprint calculations. Therefore, the calculation process covers the goal and scope definition, life cycle inventory, impact assessment (AWARE) and results interpretation. 

What do the results tell? 

The AWARE factors are closely tied to the specific location of water use, with higher AWARE factors indicating areas of greater water scarcity. This will also be reflected in the results. 

If the water scarcity footprint is large, companies should analyse, at which life cycle stages the water consumption occurs in water scarce areas. Additionally, companies could identify operations with high blue water consumption. These findings could motivate companies to reassess their production locations or explore opportunities to reduce water consumption. 

Conclusion

In conclusion, the AWARE results provides you an opportunity to improve company’s operations. They show a direction that ensures sufficient water availability for the needs of people and nature, fostering sustainability and responsible resource management.

Furthermore, environmental data derived from your operations can play a pivotal role for investors, buyers, and consumers, emphasizing the growing importance of transparent practices and reporting in today’s business landscape. 

Interested in finding out your company’s water footprint?

Contact us!





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