The evolving water footprint

The science behind water footprinting has been evolving quickly, with no real consensus from the sustainability community.

Right now, no single method can describe all potential impacts of freshwater use. The science behind water footprinting has been evolving quickly, with no real consensus from the sustainability community. So instead of recommending one inventory and impact assessment method, ISO 14046 provides a framework for assessment.


The evolving water footprint

Searching for a standard

At the eighth working group meeting of ISO 14046 in Gabarone, Botswana, we discussed the objective of this standard. It should provide principles, requirements, and guidelines for calculating a water footprint, based on an LCA. It should be a measure of both water quantity and quality. The result of a water footprint assessment can be a single value, or a profile of different impact indicator results.


Could ISO 14046 cause a tropical trade barrier?

There are concerns from some emerging and developing economies in tropical climates, who say the standard could lead to claims of environmental superiority, and act as a trade barrier. The working group in Botswana is trying to include a World Trade Organization (WTO) disclaimer to address these concerns.
Although the standard is not perfect, it represents four years of hard work. It is a significant improvement over having no standard at all, which is the situation we were in before now.


Clarifying but not labelling

A technical report is being developed to clarify the different types of water footprint assessments and how to select the most appropriate method. Explanations on the most important aspects to consider in this standard will also be included. Labels and declarations will not be part of this standard. As always, the results of the water footprint assessment are subject to critical review.


Right now, the status of ISO 14046 is a draft international standard (DIS). The participating member countries voted to move the standard to the next level, to a final draft international standard (FDIS). If the vote is positive we can expect an ISO standard on water footprinting in 2014.


If you would like to know more about ISO 14046, or if you are interested in gaining more insight into the workings of a water footprint assessment, please get in touch.



If you are interested in more information about this topic please e-mail Tommie or contact our experts.



Rimousky Menkveld

Rimousky joined the Consultancy team in 2010, as a Technical Consultant. She focussed in product sustainability and supply chain sustainability; and provided Life Cycle Assessment and SimaPro training. Rimousky worked at PRé from 2010 until 2014.

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