An ISO standard to measure the water footprint

The SDC is co-organising a presentation on the ISO standard for measuring the water footprint on 1 September in Stockholm during World Water Week. Switzerland played a key role in its development and Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) projects have already helped to demonstrate its effectiveness.


“The ISO water footprint norm offers a standard calculation method recognised by much of the private sector and the international community.” François Münger, who heads the SDC’s Section Global Programme Water Initiatives welcomes the appearance of this new standard with enthusiasm. The SDC has followed its development since 2009 and is co-organising its official presentation at the World Water Week on 1 September in Stockholm.

Quantifying the “invisible” water

What exactly is the ISO water footprint standard? The water footprint, in a way similar to the carbon footprint, makes it possible to determine the amount of unseen water used for the production of a good, a commodity or a service. The water footprint of a cup of coffee for example is 140 liters. This takes into account all stages of production from irrigation of the plants to washing the coffee beans, transportation, roasting, waste treatment and so on.

Some companies employ water footprint experts. There are currently several different methods of calculation. The advantage of the ISO 14’046 standard is that it provides a common framework, detailing what should be included in a water footprint. In the case of a cup of coffee for example it is not only the volume of water that is measured but also the context and the quality of the water: “If the coffee was produced at a time of drought its footprint will not be the same as it would be in other periods of the year,” François Münger notes. As a scientific tool such standards are designed to evolve.

Partnerships with the private sector
Pioneering projects launched by the SDC in 2009 in Vietnam and Colombia, and as of 2012 in Chile and Peru, have demonstrated the effectiveness of this standard. In each of these countries the SDC works with major companies to reduce the water footprint of their chain of production. In addition to key local industries the participants include the Swiss multinationals Clariant, Holcim, Nestlé and Syngenta.

As well as enabling participants to benefit from the results, the projects have served as a testing ground for development of the ISO standard. The partner firms acquired expertise in this field and at the same time were able to significantly reduce their consumption of water. More than just a measuring tool the ISO norm proposes strategic options that makes it possible to reduce both water consumption and costs. The companies concerned can only benefit.

Strategic reorientation
These experiences have produced impressive results and several cases of strategic reorientation. In Vietnam for example the SDC, in partnership with Nestlé and local government staff, showed that the water required for irrigation in coffee production could be reduced by 60%. This was made possible by an investigation of the way 10,000 coffee growing families were trained. The reduction in their consumption of water enabled growers to save energy as well as reduce staffing and various inputs. The project is to be extended to more than 50,000 disadvantaged coffee growers and is due to be adopted on a national scale. The water economised is equal to the drinking water requirement of more than 30% of the Vietnamese population.



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