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Sustainable living and your water footprint


With drought conditions never far away, we are increasingly conscious of the need to conserve water. Most people are unaware that each individual’s full impact on water reserves extends far beyond what comes out of the tap. To achieve sustainable living it is essential for us to lower our water footprint.

Using green water for sustainable living
“Virtual water” can be defined as the volume of water required to grow or manufacture a particular product. The idea of virtual water plays an integral part in the move towards sustainable living.

Virtual water can be divided into three components. Green indicates rainwater, while blue can refer to either surface water or groundwater. Both blue and green water are ultimately lost via evaporation, while grey indicates water that is polluted by a particular activity. Nearly all water consumed by agriculture and industry is blue water. Pressure on ground water could be relieved by a move towards sustainable living and the greater use of green rainwater.

The case for sustainable living

Here are some figures showing how much water it takes to produce some of the products we consume every day. Although statistics vary significantly from country to country based on climatic conditions and differences in farming practices, the figures add to the argument for sustainable living.
Australian statistics

1kg beef: 50,000–100,000 litres
1kg clean wool: 170,000 litres
1kg maize: 540–630 litres
1kg rice: 1550–2000 litres
1kg soybeans: 1650–2200 litres
1kg wheat: 715–750 litres

Statistics compiled by Wayne Meyer, University of Adelaide Professor of Natural Resource Science
Our eating habits and sustainable living

Animal foods and byproducts generally require more virtual water than non-animal foods. This is due to intensive pratices. Animals raised more naturally do not use so much virtual water. Sustainable living can be aided with the food choices we make. A vegetarian diet requires about 1500 litres per day, whereas a meat-based diet can require up to 4000 litres. So less meat in the diet and opting for pasture-raised meat rather than grain-fed can assist with the sustainable living movement by relieving pressure on water supplies.

Water footprint
The ecological footprint is a term referring to the total area of productive land and ocean required to meet the demands of an individual or population. This concept can be used to determine whether personal or national consumption patterns are operating within, or overshooting, ecological limits. Today, the ecological footprint has taken centre stage in the sustainable living movement.

Similarly, the “water footprint”, the total volume of fresh water used to produce the goods and services consumed by an individual, business or nation, is attracting ever-increasing attention in the area of sustainable living.

Moving towards sustainable living solutions
The World Wildlife Fund has been looking carefully at these big-picture water issues and means to encourage sustainable living. It urges the farming community to adopt more water-efficient practices such as growing crops that are suited to the area and reducing water losses through techniques such as ultra-efficient drip irrigation.

Another step towards sustainable living lies in organic farming, which requires less water usage due to careful water management and mulching practices. Moreover, organic farming doesn’t involve chemicals and adds to sustainable living by avoiding the risk of turning blue groundwater into grey polluted groundwater. It also has animals grazing on grass and drinking water that falls as rain into dams and creeks.

Virtual water is likely to play an increasingly central role in our mission to achieve sustainable living and a global water management regime. Our world population is growing and our water resources are shrinking. We must rethink our current consumption and trade patterns while making the move towards sustainable living and improving the efficiency of water-intensive activities.