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Interview Details

Interview with Ruth Mathews

  • Executive Director, Water Footprint Network
  • Dated: Wednesday, August 13th 2014
  • EWP got to hear directly from Executive Director of the Water Footprint Network, about their own approach to addressing water use, with the Water Footprint Assessment and some of the differences with other water footprinting tools such as ISO 14046.

    Ruth Mathews: The widely accepted, freely available global Water Footprint Assessment Standard developed by the Water Footprint Network (WFN) addresses water use at three scales: local, river basin (catchment or aquifer) and global, and includes an assessment of the environmental sustainability, economic efficiency and social equitability of the water footprint.  The goal of a Water Footprint Assessment following this standard is to understand the consumption and pollution of water related to specific productive activities, to place that consumption and pollution within the local and global context and finally to identify the strategic activities which can be taken to reach fair and smart fresh water use.  As defined by WFN, the water footprint is the actual volume of fresh water consumed or polluted by a process, a product or an organization and can be used by companies to quantify their water consumption and pollution for their operations and supply chain, set targets for water footprint reduction and develop a corporate water sustainability strategy.  River basin organizations, governmental regulatory and planning agencies and stakeholders involved in water allocation discussions can use the water footprint to understand water consumption and pollution within specific geographies, e.g., river basins or nations, to identify sustainable levels for the water footprint and the opportunities for reaching these levels through improvements in practices and technologies and/or agricultural, economic, trade and tax policies.  Using WFN’s Water Footprint Assessment Standard can also support social goals of fairly sharing the benefits and impacts for water use by linking production and consumption through the virtual or embedded water in products. 

    An implementer of the European Water Stewardship standard will find that WFN’s Water Footprint Assessment Standard provides key information needed to be certified as a good water steward.  It is also very helpful in corporate water reporting, e.g., the CDP Water Questionnaire.  To support companies and others interested in water stewardship, WFN provides the free online Water Footprint Assessment Tool and the WaterStat database. 

    ISO 14046 provides guidance on how to address water within the context of life cycle assessment (LCA) and is a framework for undertaking an assessment of impacts to water in an LCA study.  While the water footprint as defined by WFN, i.e., the volume of water consumed or assimilation capacity used, has been used in scientific publications as well as general media for over a decade and is immediately useful in water resources management, ISO 14046 has redefined the water footprint as a set of indicators of the environmental impact of water use.  ISO 14046 does not recommend a specific methodology and caution must be taken in comparing results from different studies.  WFN’s science-based and globally-tested methodology can be used as a basis for completing a water footprint assessment following ISO 14046, while going beyond it to address also economic and social sustainability.  WFN’s Water Footprint Assessment Standard has broad applicability to companies, consumers, governments and can contribute to policy development and implementation in both developed and developing countries. 

  • Ruth Mathews
  • Executive Director, Water Footprint Network


- Ruth Mathews
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