Skip to main content
Home » Sustainable Living » Water Scarcity: Are We Buying Into It?
Sustainable Living

Water Scarcity: Are We Buying Into It?

Currently, 2.7 billion people experience water scarcity at least one month per year. By 2025, water shortages might affect two-thirds of the world’s population.


Ioana Dobrescu

Managing Director, Water Footprint Implementation

When one thinks of household water consumption, what most probably comes to mind is the water flowing from the kitchen tap, taking a shower, or flushing the toilet. While installing water-efficient fixtures or turning off the tap while you brush your teeth reflects common sense when dealing with a finite resource, the reduction in your personal water use is minimal.

Direct water use only accounts for three percent of an average individual’s water consumption. The largest share, 97 percent, is water “hidden” in the products we consume every day — the indirect water footprint. This is where the largest savings can be achieved.

What is an indirect water footprint?

Every product or service we consume — our food, our clothes, the gas in our cars, and even our internet connection — needs water to be produced. Often, the location of production is far removed from the end consumer, or production is spread over extremely complex supply chains that effectively create an awareness void between consumption and impact.

Take the popular avocado for example. A single fruit requires approximately 60 gallons of water to grow, and our recent avocado on toast obsession has resulted in increased water stress in already water-scarce regions, particularly in exporting regions such as Chile or California. While it takes roughly 12 times less water to grow a tomato, avocados only consume a small fraction of water compared to beef, which requires 2,000 gallons for one pound.

In our global economy, the water footprint of a consumer is highly dependent on the production, trade, and consumption patterns of their country. At the high end of the personal water footprint range, we find, perhaps unsurprisingly, the American consumer, using up 2,060 gallons of water per day. At the other end of the spectrum, we find Japan, consuming on average 1,000 gallons per person per day.

Thoughtful consumption

Switching to a plant-based diet can contribute to a significant reduction in both your personal water footprint and that of our society if a large enough part of the population makes the switch. It doesn’t mean one must go completely vegetarian. Even committing to Meatless Mondays can save an average of 22,000 gallons of water per year, the equivalent of 276 bathtubs. Eating local products as well as choosing organic or pasture-fed livestock can all contribute to lowering an individual’s water footprint, but similarly high savings can be achieved just by reducing food waste. In the United States alone, food loss and waste accounts for a staggering 34 percent of freshwater use.

The same principle applies to everything we buy, so think twice before acquiring your tenth pair of jeans or that five-dollar t-shirt you will only wear once.

Where do you start?

Measuring your own water footprint can re-establish the link between consumption and impact. Knowing which areas of your personal consumption you can focus on to achieve the highest savings is key. Take a test with the Personal Water Footprint Calculator, and begin lowering your water footprint one action at a time.

A water-secure future doesn’t entirely depend on the individual consumer. Governments and businesses have their role, of course, but don’t underestimate your consumer power. Use it to do good.

Next article