From Beer to Blue Jeans, Calculating the Freshwater ‘Footprint’ of Consumer Products

Did you know that it takes roughly 160 pints of water to make one pint of beer?

Or that if you consider the water used to grow ingredients such as sugar cane, as much as 492 liters of water are used to make a single 2-liter bottle of soda?

How about that it takes roughly 500 gallons – including water used to grow, dye and process the cotton – to make a pair of stonewashed jeans?

Calculations like these are part of the growing trend of indentifying a product’s “water footprint.” Modeled partly on carbon footprinting, these estimates take into account not only the water that products consume directly, but also the amounts that are embedded in every process and ingredient used to produce them.

You might not think of a hamburger as a water-intensive item, but a typical beef patty takes 630 gallons of water to produce because the bulk of the water is used to grow grain for cattle feed. That’s more than three times the amount the average American uses every day for drinking, bathing, washing dishes and flushing toilets!

Around the world, many companies are beginning to recognize their water footprint as an increasingly important consideration to be addressed as a part of their environmental strategies.

In May, CI’s Center for Environmental Leadership in Business (CELB) convened the spring meeting of its Business & Sustainability Council (BSC) at Harrah’s in Las Vegas. The desert setting – and the challenges of operating a large entertainment and hospitality center in a place of water scarcity – set the stage for an in-depth conversation on corporate water footprints.

CELB and our corporate partners are already implementing several innovative, high-impact programs to secure freshwater ecosystems.

Ignoring freshwater issues could prove costly: One estimate places the global value of all freshwater services – not just for drinking and washing, but for fisheries, agriculture, transportation, industrial processes and electricity generation – at US $7 trillion per year.

Learn about CI’s presence at World Water Week (going on now in Stockholm), and check out more interesting water footprinting statistics on the Water Footprint Network website.

Andrea Wolfson is CELB’s editorial manager.


  1. John D Ekstromer says

    I’ve been beating the drum about fresh water for years. Simply awesome to find others actually doing something about it. We can live and survive without oil, but without fresh water? No chance. Really glad I found this site.

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