Virtual Water Footprint

Posted by: IRRIGO on February 12th, 2013

Do you know how much water you use every day? Sure, you know that your newly installed high-efficiency toilet, for instance, uses four litres per flush, or around 40 litres total per person, per day. You also know that you are drinking about two litres or so every day (please start doing so if you’re not!).  Add on a bit more for cooking, dishes and laundry.

That was easy enough, right?   Wrong!  These are just the direct figures, and the ones that are right in front of us every day.  While these are extremely important, there is increasing focus on a less obvious form of water consumption:  “virtual water” or “waterprint”.

“Virtual water” refers to the total amount of water used to make goods, or otherwise bring them to the end consumer. Everything on earth has its own virtual water footprint or waterprint. A product’s waterprint varies according to geographic location, agricultural practices, and manufacturing processes.

To fully appreciate the concept, let us look at the virtual water footprint of common consumer goods:

  • To bring that perfect cup of coffee you have every morning to your mug requires approximately 150 litres of water.
  • For the average steak to get to your dinner table, it takes a whopping 4,650 litres of water.
  • Fancy a nice glass of wine to accompany that steak?  Another 175 litres of water went into that!

Almost everything requires water to get to its final state and be ready for use by the end consumer.

Virtual Water in the Import/Export Arena

These numbers enable us to better appreciate that the amount of water we actually use is not limited to the obvious. A single apple amounts to 70 litres or so of virtual water needed to grow it and process it. Old figures indicate that China averages 800,000 cartons of apple imports from the US each year. If each carton contained 100 apples, that would be upwards of 500 billion gallons of virtual water China saved by not growing the apples themselves.

These figures are staggering, and it doesn’t take much imagination to see how the awareness and active management of these figures will change the way we look at imports and exports in a major way.

Corporate Use of Virtual Water

How many pieces of paper are tossed in your office each day? In your building?  In your city? A single sheet of paper takes about 11 litres of water to produce. Some of us cringe at the thought of how many trees had to die so that we can have paper to write on. Now there’s this added realization that making paper also required water.

Restaurants are able to reduce their waterprint by paying attention to where they are purchasing from, and paying special attention to seasonal availability of produce.  Large offices, hotels, and other organizations should have a serious look at their supply chains and vendors, and all businesses should be making this a priority in their operations.  Besides, in the heat of ‘going green,’ promoting waterprint awareness and reduction will likely attract more customers and clients.

Understanding the concept of waterprint will help us become more thoughtful about our actions at home, at work, in school, or wherever we happen to be, whatever we are doing. The majority of things we handle don’t seem to have anything to do with water, but with a little effort and some genuine interest, we will soon acquire the habit of making the connection, and will perhaps make a few small changes in the way we do things.


  • to irrigate
  • to irrigate responsibly

We provide high quality irrigation and landscape lighting services in and around Victoria, BC. Contact us to discuss your project or how we can help maintain your existing system.