The Importance of Water Footprint and Virtual Water

There’s no point beating around the bush, it rains a lot in the UK.

In fact, it has averaged 1,662.8mm of rainfall each year for the last seven years, with 2010 having the lowest rainfall since 2001.

With this much rain every year, why bother worrying about water use and conservation?

Unfortunately, this is an approach that we see many businesses and individuals taking. We need to care because, despite the volume of rain the UK receives, there are some highly water stressed areas, even in Wales!

Why does water stress happen?

There are a number of reasons why water stress occurs, such as population growth, climate change, urbanisation and ageing infrastructure. All of these aspects make it difficult to get water to certain areas of the UK – and that’s without mentioning the amount of energy used in treating and distributing your water and removing all water waste.  

Combine this with mis-management of water as well as lack of data being used in controlling consumption and waste, and it starts to become a bit more obvious as to why water stress occurs even in a seemingly wet country.

How much water do we currently use?

Full disclosure, this is a bit of a trick question.

In the UK, an average household customer will use around 150 litres of water each day. For businesses, where employees work in an office building, the average is 50 litres for each employee for every working day (according to Ofwat).

However, when you consider water that’s being used in all aspects of your life – clothing production, food, drink, manufacturing – this number increases significantly.

According to the WWF’s UK Water Footprint report this figure is around 4,500 litres per person, per day.

This consideration is called “virtual water” with the overall amount contributing to your water footprint.

What is Virtual Water?

Water 3D Image.png

Virtual Water is the concept that refers to the use of water through the production of goods and services.

As an example, let’s look at a simple cotton t-shirt. The t-shirt itself doesn’t contain any water, but the material used to make it – cotton – does, as does the manufacturing process. When all the water from all the processes of making this t-shirt is added up, that simple item of clothing has taken around 2,700 litres to produce.


Often, this water isn’t thought about or even considered from the end user, but the impact can be significant to the water available within the geographic area. That 2,700 litres of water used to make the t-shirt can’t be used for drinking or sewage and if it’s exported, that’s ‘virtually’ 2,700 litres of domestic water that’s being exported.

To add to this, global water is projected to increase by 55% by 2050 – a figure that we are currently unable to achieve using existing processes.

How can we reduce water consumption?

Reducing water consumption isn’t just possible, it’s a long-term necessity.

The recent crisis in Cape Town really brings to life the impact of when water isn’t managed correctly. As the entire city counted down to day zero, day-to-day relationships with water changed. Personal, business and non-critical functions reduced their consumption so drastically that the ultimate end date was averted.

While this is an extreme example, it speaks volumes for the benefits of increased efficiencies without even touching the potential financial rewards.

At amber, we take an overarching view of your business water use, looking into your supply chain, purchasing activity and efficiency levels to put you in the best possible position.

If you’re interested in reducing your business’ water consumption and footprint, then get in touch using the form below.

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NewsJoe Hickmanwater