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5 Steps to a Fair Water Footprint

Photo: Courtesy of Linus Nylund

The global water crisis is one of the toughest challenges facing humanity and our planet. We must all take action to forge a fairer water footprint. Here’s why and how. 


Dr. Nick Hepworth

Executive Director, Water Witness International

Two-thirds of the world is already facing severe water scarcity. Lack of access to safe water, sanitation, and hygiene denies health and opportunity to almost half of the world’s population. Diarrhea caused by dirty water and poor toilets kills a child every two minutes. Women and girls spend 200 million hours fetching water each day — time out from school and fulfilling their incredible potential.

Rocketing demand for water around the world is triggering conflict and devasting our ecosystems. Freshwater species are becoming extinct faster than any other lifeforms, and 86 percent of the world’s rivers are seriously damaged by human activity. 80 percent of wastewater goes untreated, leading to horrific levels of pollution. Human-induced climate chaos is triggering devastating cycles of flooding and drought.

But there’s good news: if we manage our water resources wisely, there is enough water for everyone, forever. To achieve this, we need a worldwide revolution for fairer water footprints.

Good water stewardship

Our water footprints describe the total water used to produce the goods and services we consume — whether for irrigating oranges in California, watering beef cattle in Brazil, making jeans in Bangladesh, mobile phones in Vietnam, or sugar in Africa.

The United States has the largest water footprint of any nation. Each American consumes a footprint of 7,800 liters, or 52 bathtubs of water every day. 20 percent of this — or a whopping 1.2 trillion bathtubs every year — is imported. This is other people’s water, and our consumption can deny distant communities and ecosystems of the water needed to thrive.  

To avoid perpetual and catastrophic water crises we must ensure that our consumption is based on sustainable and equitable water use. The production of everything we consume — our food, clothes, computers, cars, and services — must be based on good water stewardship, which means:

  • Taking water from rivers, lakes, and aquifers in step with natural replenishment to avoid resource depletion.
  • Pollution control and treating chemicals, sewage, and industrial wastewater properly to avoid resource degradation.
  • Looking after water ecosystems and preparing for floods and drought.
  • Realizing the human right to water, so that everyone has access to clean water, toilets, and handwashing facilities.

Our supply chains start in our backyards and reach right around the world. Multi-national companies and the investors behind them have phenomenal power to shape how water is used, and they respond to market forces, consumer demand, and shareholder pressure. By demanding that they adopt water stewardship, you can make your water footprint fair. You can change the world’s water use for good. 

Fair water footprint

Our work to combat water abuse by corporations in South America has shown how people power can reverse damage and ensure a fair water footprint. Join the struggle for global water justice and take five steps to a fair water footprint:

  1. Step up and speak out for water: Conserve water at home. Find out where your water comes from and where your wastewater goes. Make sure local water use is fair and demand change where there is injustice or ecological damage. 
  2. Demand good water stewardship: Demand it from grocery stores, farmers, food and beverage producers, retailers, and the brands you buy goods from. Ask companies that benefit from your patronage to show their stewardship credentials through certification against the Alliance for Water Stewardship Standard, which guarantees good practice.
  3. Ensure your investments and banks don’t abuse water: Financial markets, banks, insurers, and pension funds channel your money into companies to turn profit. Make sure they divest from water abusers and invest in water stewards who can be differentiated via CDP’s Water Disclosure Programme.
  4. Put pressure on government: Let your representatives know that you care about the issue, and demand their support for stronger legislation, oversight, and investment to safeguard water, at home and abroad.
  5. Join our Fair Water Footprint campaign: Help us to investigate water footprints, to take action on water misuse, and to activate water rights for communities. Visit to learn more.

Use your power to shape a fair water future through a fair water footprint for your family, community, city, and country.

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