Freshwater scarcity is recognized as one of the most pressing environmental issues today and in the future. There is an increasing interest in the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) community to assess water use from a LCA perspective.

In August 2014, a new standard under the 14000 series (environmental management) was released by the International Organization for Standardization: ISO 14046 on Water Footprint.

The standard specifies principles, requirements and guidelines related to water footprint assessment of products, processes and organizations based on Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). A water footprint assessment conducted according to this international standard:

  • Is based on a LCA (according to ISO 14044);
  • Is modular (i.e. the water footprint of different life cycle stages can be summed to represent the
    water footprint);
  • Identifies potential environmental impacts related to water;
  • Includes relevant geographical and temporal dimensions;
  • Identifies quantity of water use and changes in water quality;
  • Utilizes hydrological knowledge

With this standard, regional impact assessment is officially introduced into the LCA world. Sphera’s Life Cycle Assessment software follows these developments and introduced regionally specific elementary flows and new quantities as a first step towards a comprehensive assessment of water data.

Water Footprint Terminology

Water assessment in Sphera’s Life Cycle Assesssment software follows methods and terminology as defined by the UNEP/SETAC working group on water and the new ISO standard (BAYART ET AL. 2010, PFISTER ET AL. 2009, ISO 14046).

According to these publications, the following terms are used:

  • Water use: use of water by human activity. Use includes, but is not limited to, any water withdrawal within the drainage basin impacting water flows and quality.
  • Water consumption: water removed from, but not returned to the same drainage basin. Water consumption can be because of evaporation, transpiration, product integration or release into a different drainage basin or the sea. Evaporation from reservoirs is considered water consumption.
  • Groundwater: water which is being held in, and can be recovered from, an underground formation.
  • Green water refers to the precipitation on land that does not run off or recharges the groundwater but is stored in the soil or temporarily stays on top of the soil or vegetation. Eventually, this part of precipitation evaporates or transpires through plants. Green water can be made productive for crop growth.
  • Blue water refers to water withdrawn from ground water or surface water bodies. The blue water inventory of a process includes all freshwater inputs but excludes rainwater.
  • Fresh water and sea water: “Fresh water” is defined as water having a low concentration of dissolved solids (ISO 14046)1. This term specifically excludes sea water and brackish water

What Is a Water Footprint?

A water footprint is an indicator of water use that looks at both direct and indirect water use of a consumer or producer.

The water footprint of an individual, community or business is defined as the total volume of freshwater that is used to produce the goods and services consumed by the individual or community or produced by the business.

The increasing consumption of water and overuse of aquatic systems has already resulted in a dramatic deterioration of aquatic ecosystems worldwide. This disruption has lead to a shortage of freshwater availability in some regions of the world.

The consequences of overuse will be multilayered ranging from supply drop outs to significantly higher prices for potable water. This means companies need to especially manage their water footprint – the risk of high direct water consumption at their own sites and indirect water consumption in their supply chains.

How to Analyze Your Water Footprint

The analysis of a product or corporate water footprint is the first step towards identifying the processes and activities significantly influencing your company’s water consumption and that of the supplier chain.

Based on this analysis, Sphera will then develop a list of core indicators in close cooperation with you in order to systematically reduce risks and prevent cost increases.

We have acquired in-depth expertise over the years regarding calculations of water footprints and water management. Water footprints of companies, products and provision of services are part of our portfolio – considering the entire supplier chain and virtual water supply.

Benefits of Analyzing Your Water Footprint

  • Analyze the direct and indirect water consumption of your organization or products.
  • Identify water footprint risks and develop mitigation strategies.
  • Optimize the water footprint and reduce associated environmental impacts.
  • Reduce costs in your supply chain and increase resource efficiency.
  • Improve internal and external environmental communication with reliable information.
  • Display success in environmental performance management and responsibility.

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