Monday, January 12, 2009

Virtual Water

My husband reduced my water consumption by just opening up the toilet tanks in our bathrooms. He let me know that our toilets do not use 3 gallons of water per flush, the number used when I calculated my water usage a few days ago. Ours use 1.5 gallon. However, my satisfaction with that fact was short lived.

I have a lot of free time while I am here in Texas and in addition to reading, I am also snooping around on more websites. One of the things I learned was that number of 70 gallon per capita use of water was only the number extracted from one calculator. Some put the number much higher.

Then, I remembered an article I read a few months ago about virtual water and so took my research on water usage a little further by googling that term. I got over two millions hits, from wikipedia to Forbes Magazine. My research made me realize that just calculating how much water I see I use each day is not enough. It’s my virtual water footprint that matters.

Virtual water, or hidden water, includes all the water used to grow food, in the production of a product, or the execution of a service. It can be calculated for nations as well as individuals. The global average footprint is 1240 cubic meters per capita per year. I am sure it will not surprise you that the United States uses almost twice that amount and China about 60% of it.

Virtual water includes the water that it takes to grow vegetables, raise cattle, or produce a microchip. So not only does food count in it, it encompasses leather goods, cotton or wool items as well as tomatoes and wheat. A cup of coffee takes 140 liters of water; a glass of milk, 200 and a hamburger 2,400. A pair of leather shoes? A whopping 8,000.

There are many websites where you can calculate your water footprint, for an individual as well as for industry. One is at but I have to admit that one was hard for me because I don’t know how many kilograms of meat, dairy or fruits and vegetable I consume a week. Cubic meters of water don’t mean much to me either. However, that site does provide other good information on the topic and if you put virtual water into your search engine, you’ll get to more. There is much more to learn – and so much more to feel guilty about.

I am not suggesting that we give up tomatoes or tee shirts. I certainly can’t do either. But like everything, it is about conscious consumerism, a term I like. It’s about making choices, and being mindful of them.

On that note, I think I will go get a cup of coffee – and drink it all, not toss half down the sink as I sometimes do. That’s being more mindful, isn’t it?

1 comment:

Amy Short said...

Very interesting. I don't think that I want to know my water footprint at the moment though!