Water footprint: what is sustainable, efficient and equitable?

There are many river basins in the world where the human water footprint needs to be reduced substantially. In my recent book and two subsequent articles, Iproposethree pillars under wise freshwater allocation: water footprint caps per river basin, water footprint benchmarks per product, and fair water footprint shares per community.

Water footprint caps for all river basins in the world—setting maximums to the water volumes that can be consumed or polluted by the various human activities per basin—would aim to ensure a sustainable water use within each basin.

Water footprint benchmarks for water-using processes aim to provide an incentive to producers to reduce the water footprint of their products toward reasonable benchmark levels. Benchmarks will enable the actors along supply chains—from primary producers and intermediate companies to final consumers—and governments responsible for water allocation to share information about what are ‘reasonable water footprints' for various processes and products.

The idea of a fair water footprint share per community aims to contribute to the debate about social equity. Water allocation may be environmentally sustainable and efficient from a resource point of view, but that does not automatically imply that water allocation is fair from a societal point of view. We need international agreement on what makes the water footprint of a community of consumers fair or reasonably acceptable, given the limited maximum sustainable water footprint per global citizen.


Hoekstra, A.Y. (2013) The water footprint of modern consumer society, Routledge, London, UK.http://ayhoekstra.nl/books/the-water-footprint-of-modern-consumer-society.html

Hoekstra, A.Y. (2014) Sustainable, efficient and equitable water use: The three pillars under wise freshwater allocation, WIREs Water, 1(1): 31-40.http://ayhoekstra.nl/pubs/Hoekstra-2014.pdf

Hoekstra, A.Y. and Wiedmann, T.O. (2014) Humanity's unsustainable environmental footprint, Science, 344(6188): 1114-1117.http://ayhoekstra.nl/pubs/Hoekstra-Wiedmann-2014-EnvironmentalFootprint.pdf