My BFG (best green friend) sent me an article from msn Green entitled “What’s Your Water Footprint?” It reminded me that there’s way more than just carbon shaping our footprints on Earth. Your carbon footprint is just one component of your overall ecological footprint, a term coined by Wackernagel and Rees in the early 90s to describe human demand on all ecosystems. For 2005, humanity’s total ecological footprint was estimated by the Global Footprint Network at 1.3 planet Earths – in other words, we are using our natural resources 1.3 times as fast as Earth can renew them. Your water footprint is one component of this calculation that is not talked about as often.
Your water footprint is the amount of water that you consume both directly and indirectly. That is the quantity of water you use for drinking, cleaning, and cooking, etc. (direct) plus the quantity of water used to make the products you consume (indirect). Which do you think is bigger – your direct or indirect water consumption? According to the msn Green article, a whopping 95% of your water consumption is indirect! Apparently, your leaky faucet is the least of your worries – cut out one hamburger and you save 5000 gallons of water! This certainly sounds easier than scheduling a plumber. Not to mention cheaper and healthier.
I have a hard time fathoming how a hamburger could require this much water to produce, but I know from reading Michael Pollan’s mind-blowing book, “In Defense on Food” that it is related to the cultivation of the corn needed to feed the cattle. Even the lowly disposable bottle of water you bought requires more water to make than you would think – somewhere between 3 to 8 times its volume. These hidden ecological costs are important to consider when you make everyday choices about what to eat and what to buy. Every single product you consume has a water footprint associated with it, bovine products topping the list of offenders.
The concept of a water footprint is inherently different than the carbon footprint. Unlike CO2, the volume of water on earth remains the same: all of the water you use does eventually get recycled back into the ecosystem, although its quality is often degraded by use. The worse the degradation, the more clean water needed to dilute the polluted water until it meets our standards for “clean” and is usable again. The other difference is that all water use is not created equal. Using large volumes of water in an arid climate is more detrimental than using large quanities of water in a humid climate, whereas a ton of CO2 is problematic no matter where it is generated.
Once again, reducing your consumption will reap the best eco-payback. To calculate your own water footprint or learn more, you can visit: http://www.waterfootprint.org. Now if I could just convince my growing teen and tween-aged boys and hulky husband to become vegetarians, we’d be able to greatly reduce our family’s water footprint (and our carbon footprint as well!). It may well be easier to call the plumber.