The Water Footprint of Modern Consumer Society

A.Y. Hoekstra

Routledge, London,
ISBN 978 1 84971 303 0
Soft and hardcover, 216 pages

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Book description

Water is not only used in the domestic context, but also in agriculture and industry in the production of commercial goods, from food to paper. The water footprint is an indicator of freshwater use that looks at both direct and indirect use of water by a consumer or producer. The water footprint of an individual, community or business is defined as the total volume of freshwater that is used to produce the goods and services consumed by the individual or community or produced by the business.

This book shows how the water footprint concept can be used to quantify and map the water use behind consumption and how it can guide reduction of water use to a sustainable level. With a number of case studies, it illustrates water use along supply chains and that water consumption at one place is often linked to water use at another. For example, it is calculated that it takes 15,000 litres of water to produce 1 kg of beef, or 8,000 litres of water to produce a pair of jeans. The book shows that imports of water-intensive products can highly benefit water-scarce countries, but also that this creates a dependency on foreign water resources.

The book demonstrates how water-scarce regions sometimes, nevertheless, use lots of water for making export products. It raises the issue of sustainable consumption: how can consumers, businesses and governments get involved in reducing the water footprints of final consumer goods?

Table of contents


  1. Introduction
  2. Drinking ten bathtubs of water a day
  3. Water for bread and pasta
  4. The meat eater, a big water user
  5. How our cotton clothes link to a disappearing sea
  6. Burning water: the water footprint of biofuels
  7. The overseas water footprint of cut flowers
  8. The supply-chain water footprint of paper
  9. Maximum sustainable water footprint per river basin
  10. Water-use efficiency
  11. Allocating the world’s limited freshwater resources
  12. Getting trade right
  13. Product transparency
  14. Who will be the heroes of change?



Book reviews

‘How much water do we really use, as individuals and society? Until recently, we didn't really know, but the concept of the "water footprint" – developed and analyzed by Arjen Y. Hoekstra (and his colleagues) – has revolutionized our understanding of our water use. Hoekstra's compelling and informative book is a vital contribution to the desperately needed public debate over how best to move to sustainable water management, use, and policy. It deserves to be read by anyone concerned about the planet’s freshwater resources.'
Dr. Peter H. Gleick, president and co-founder of the Pacific Institute and creator of The World’s Water book series
‘Over the next 20 years the global demand for water is expected to exceed supply by 40% with dire consequences for our planet. Professor Hoekstra’s meticulously researched book uses the concept of water footprinting – in ways that make it easy to understand just how much water plays a central part in our everyday lives – as a means of helping to manage and reduce water consumption. It is a timely contribution to an increasingly urgent debate.’
Paul Polman, CEO Unilever
'No concept has done more to show the role of water in our lives. For too long, water has been mismanaged because it was invisible. The water footprint concept has helped us see how water flows through our lives and economies – and what we value, we protect.'
Stuart Orr, Freshwater Manager, WWF International
'This contribution by Professor Hoekstra advances our understanding of the role of water in the consumer goods sector and can move us closer to addressing water scarcity and sustainable consumption and move towards a Circular Economy.'
Will Sarni, Director and Practice Leader, Enterprise Water Strategy, Deloitte Consulting LLP
'The Water Footprint of Modern Consumer Society is worthy of the highest recommendation especially for college and university library collections'
James A. Cox, Midwest Book Review