"The Global Water Footprint Standard helps us all know more about how much water we use, where it comes from and how we each can take steps to make our water footprint sustainable," said Ruth Mathews, executive director of the Water Footprint Network, which developed the standard.
The standard explains how countries, companies or individual citizens can assess their water footprint, Mathews told EurActiv.
The key driver behind the water footprinting concept is "to help move humanity as a whole to sustainable, equitable and efficient water use," she stressed.
"We need to look at the humanity's water footprint at a river basin compared to what's needed for ecological and social purposes," she said, "and determine whether it is within the sustainability boundaries for the environment and social proposes".
Existing calculations by the network show that "the water footprint of common products such as coffee can be surprising".
For example, it can take an average of 140 litres of water to produce one cup of coffee, whereas producing one litre of milk requires 1,000 litres of water. 3,000 litres are needed to produce one kilo of rice and a whopping 16,000 litres are needed to produce one kilo of beef, according to the network.
The tool is increasingly being used by companies to help them save water. Banks can also use it to assess water-related risks prior to making investments and governments are encouraged to refer to it in their water management programmes.
Individuals can also use water footprint methodology to understand how much water they are consuming as a result of the various foods and consumer goods they buy. In the end, citizens are expected to opt for fewer water intensive products and choose "to buy goods from water rich areas or catchments that are sustainably managed," in an effort to move towards a sustainable water footprint.
Take up at political level
According to Mathews, companies are showing a growing interest in using the methodology, which can help them to understand where their water consumption lies in both their own production line and further along the supply chain. They can then identify areas where inefficiencies can be addressed.
But while businesses have be quick to understand how water footprint assessments can help reduce their water use, Mathews noted that governments "have not quite understood it as quickly".
The network will therefore try to showcase how the water footprint standard can help governments with their water allocation and management activities. Pilot projects with smaller government bodies are among the options being considered.
As part of the country's response to the EU Water Framework Directive, Spain was required to conduct a water footprint assessment of its river basins. This exercise was one of the pilot projects that paved the way for the new standard, Mathews noted.
"We are very interested in seeing this methodology used at policy level," Mathews added, expressing hope that more countries will get involved and use the footprint assessment as part of integrated river basin management.