The Water Footprint Assessment Manual

A.Y. Hoekstra, A.K. Chapagain, M.M. Aldaya, M.M. Mekonnen
Earthscan, London,
ISBN 978 1 84971 279 8
Hardcover, 224 pages

Free download: English Chinese Portuguese
Order the book: English Chinese Korean
Spanish translation upcoming

Book description

The book offers a complete and up-to-date overview of the global standard on Water Footprint Assessment as developed by the Water Footprint Network. More specifically it:

  • Provides a comprehensive set of methods for water footprint assessment
  • Shows how water footprints can be calculated for individual processes and products, as well as for consumers, nations and businesses
  • Contains detailed worked examples of how to calculate green, blue and grey water footprints
  • Describes how to assess the sustainability of the aggregated water footprint within a river basin or the water footprint of a specific product
  • Includes an extensive library of possible measures that can contribute to water footprint reduction

Table of contents


  1. Introduction
  2. Goals and scope of water footprint assessment
  3. Water footprint accounting
  4. Water footprint sustainability assessment
  5. Library of water footprint response options
  6. Limitations
  7. Future challenges
  8. Conclusion


  1. Calculation of green and blue evapotranspiration using the CROPWAT model
  2. Calculating the process water footprint of growing a crop – an example for sugar beet in Valladolid (Spain)
  3. Calculating the water footprint of a product – example for refined sugar from Valladolid (Spain)
  4. Examples of grey water footprint calculations
  5. Environmental flow requirements
  6. Frequently asked questions


List of symbols



Book reviews

'Water is vital to business: poor water quality or insufficient supply can curtail - or even shut down - activities in business operations and in the supply chain. The method laid out in the Water Footprint Assessment Manual fills an emerging and urgent business need for a means of understanding water consumption in operations and in the supply chain, assessing its sustainability, and devising effective response strategies.'
Monika Weber-Fahr, Global Business Line Leader for IFC's Sustainable Business Advisory
'Unilever's Sustainable Living Plan includes a target to halve the environmental footprint of our product portfolio across the life cycle. Water is one of our key metrics and we support efforts to standardise methodology and improve access to scientifically robust and standardised data. The Global Water Footprint Standard is an excellent resource and fundamental to us achieving our targets.'
Dr. Donna Jeffries, Sustainability Manager, Unilever
'Forty years down the road we will have 9 billion humans living on the Earth. Nearly fifty per cent more than what we have today. The impact of any activity, be it economic or social, will have an unprecedented print on water. It is, therefore, critical that policy makers and the public, let alone the political community, are aware of what the water footprint is, how it is established and how it does evolve in time and space. This book is a must for all those who wish to understand why and how water became the single most important commodity humanity has. But most importantly, it also provides methodologies of comparing the footprint of our various actions in order to strive towards sustainable water use.'
Professor A. Szollosi-Nagy, Rector, UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education
'The Global Water Footprint Standard comes at a time when companies in all sectors are awakening to the risk that water scarcity poses to their bottom lines and reputations. This work helps companies understand their dependency and impact on water resources, and offers guidance on response strategies that conserve water for industry, communities and nature.'
Jim Leape, Director General of WWF International
'Clean, fresh water is increasingly scarce world-wide for people and nature. It is therefore essential that businesses or citizens that want to act responsibly understand their water use and its impacts. The standardized methods developed by the Water Footprint Network to analyze and compare water uses are important in this respect. WWF applauds the publication of this guidance through which a valuable tool becomes available for everyone.'
Johan van de Gronden, CEO WWF-Netherlands
'The global water footprint standard developed by the Water Footprint Network is helping C&A to understand its water use throughout its supply chain in countries like India and China. Of interest is the comparison of the water footprint of conventional and organic cotton. The scientific rigour and clarity of the global water footprint standard will help C&A set goals for reducing its impacts to rivers and lakes, adopt corporate policies for reducing our water footprint, and move toward sustainable water use. As a WFN sponsoring partner, we fully endorse the global water footprint standard and the work of the Water Footprint Network.'
Philip Chamberlain, Head Of Sustainable Business Development - C&A Europe
'The Spanish Government issued guidelines to all Basin Agencies to evaluate the water footprint. Evaluations of the water footprint in Spain are helping Basin Agencies get a better idea of water scarcity in Spain and are helping us rethink water and food security.'
Alberto Garrido, Professor of Agricultural Economics of the Technical University of Madrid, and Deputy Director of the Water Observatory of the Botin Foundation
'We at DEG, member of KfW Bankengruppe, value water as one of the most important natural resources. We actively engage to finance entrepreneurial initiatives in the water sector aimed at creating a sustainable use of water. Congratulations to the second edition of the Water Footprint Assessment Manual, which can help our clients to understand better their water risks and opportunities in a globalizing economy.'
Dr. Peter Thimme, Director Sustainable Development, Environment, First Vice President, DEG
'Water footprint assessments are helpful in supporting our water stewardship efforts because they provide a tool to measure and understand water use throughout our supply chain. Our recent assessments and the report we issued with The Nature Conservancy, with support by the Water Footprint Network, has shed valuable light on the components and locations of water embedded in some of our key products as well as the potential effects on local watersheds. This work provides a foundation for engaging our suppliers and partners as we continue our journey to establish a truly water sustainable business. A common, standard tool for assessing water footprints, as the Water Footprint Network provides, is critical as businesses work toward stewardship of this critical, shared resource'
Greg Koch, Managing Director, Global Water Stewardship, The Coca-Cola Company
'A decade ago, the architects of the water footprint concept captured the world’s interest by unveiling the volumes of water required to produce the goods we consume in our daily lives. Those water footprint numbers made us aware that personal and corporate responsibility for water use extends well beyond the walls of our homes or our factories -- it extends throughout the supply chains, particularly the farm fields, where water is consumed in delivering goods and ingredients to us. Now, with the publication of The Water Footprint Assessment Manual, we have come to appreciate the fact that true water stewardship is not solely about the volume of our water footprints – instead, it’s about paying attention to where those footprints land, in local watersheds, and paying attention to the undesirable impacts that come with unsustainable water use. This Manual will be invaluable to anyone wishing to assess, and improve, the sustainability of their water use.'
Brian Richter, Managing Director of Global Freshwater Program, The Nature Conservancy
'In Brazil there is a lot of interest in the water footprint, among scientists like me, but also within environmental organisations, governments and companies. It is very helpful that with the publication of the Water Footprint Assessment Manual we have an international standard, that defines the water footprint unambiguously and that will help practitioners to apply the concept in a way that is scientifically sound and robust. We are looking forward to achieving progress on sustainability, innovation and entrepreneurship.'
Professor Eduardo Mario Mendiondo, University of Sao Paulo, Brazil
'The Alliance for Water Stewardship applauds the Water Footprint Network’s pioneering work and welcomes these further developments of “water footprinting” as a water accounting methodology which will help individuals, businesses and governments move towards sustainable water use worldwide.'
Matthew Wenban-Smith, Alliance for Water Stewardship
'The interest in the water footprint in China is growing rapidly. The global water footprint standard as developed by the Water Footprint Network will be extremely helpful in guiding researchers, companies and governments at all levels. The standard is based on the most recent scientific knowledge and has been extensively tested in a number of pilot studies.'
Professor Junguo Liu, Beijing Forestry University, China
'SABMiller has made extensive use of the Global Water Footprint Standard in its efforts to better understand the water risks across its value chain, make appropriate measures to mitigate these where appropriate and in so doing work towards a more sustainable use of water resources. We value the expertise and rigor that has gone into developing the document, and continue to support the Water Footprint Network in its efforts in this regard.'
David Grant, Group Sustainable Development Projects Manager, SABMiller
'Population growth and economic development is placing enormous pressure on our already scarce fresh water supplies. We produce water thirsty commodities in dry locations, we over allocate water resources within watersheds, and we continue to overwhelm our natural systems with pollution, placing more than 126,000 freshwater dependent species, as well as human beings, at great risk. The Water Footprint Assessment Manual is an extremely valuable tool and standard methodology that we hope will be widely adopted by governments, non-profits, corporations, and watershed managers to ensure the sustainability of producing various goods and services in various locations and to accurately report water use and management information across product supply chains and in watersheds.'
Russ Mittermeier, President, Conservation International
'Water footprint assessments as specified in this document prepared by the Water Footprint Network are an important tool to quantify water volumes throughout the supply chain of products. This is being demonstrated by the increasing number of companies that use this tool. When moving from quantification to communication it is important to contextualize the meaning of the quantified volumes. At the global level this task has been identified as the challenge ahead when moving forward towards widely accepted benchmarks in the area of water stewardship.'
Guido Sonnemann, Programme Officer, UN Environment Programme
'The Water Footprint Network has since its establishment provided a global, multi-stakeholder platform to advance the dialog around the quickly-emerging topic of water footprint. At PepsiCo, we believe that there is significant value in understanding the components of our water footprint from the perspective of local impact. In turn, understanding and addressing this local impact is a critical element in our commitment to respect water as a fundamental human right.'
Dr. Liese Dallbauman, Senior Manager of Water Stewardship, PepsiCo
'This standard clarifies all methodological questions that professionals and water managers may have on the implementation of the water footprint concept.'
Professor Hubert Savenije, Delft University of Technology, The Netherlands