ISO Water Footprint Standard Crash Course, Part 2
Water is certainly rising to the top of your sustainability agenda because the related risks and opportunities affect your supply chain and your operations. And you’re also getting pressure from stakeholders: NGOs keep watch and want transparency, engaged consumers want information and answers, and investors want reports on your water strategy, including a gauge of exposure to risks and opportunities.
The recently validated ISO 14’046 standard will help you navigate your water assessment process and solidify your strategy.
Part 1 introduced the new standard and the implications it will have on your measurement and reporting initiatives.
Part 2 now delves into the debate on the standard, the definition of a water footprint and seeks to answer your burning questions about water data and footprinting.
The ISO 14’046 Debate and Definition
There are always critics. Especially in science. So, let’s start here. And then move on.
Recent criticshave said that this standard “killed the concept once and for all.” This couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, more than 300 direct stakeholders carried out the ISO 14’046 work over a period of over 5 years, which, in my opinion, provides a solid, collaborative basis upon which this applicable standard was built.
This standard does not, however, provide a definitive definition for a water footprint. All ISO standards are updated regularly according to the latest knowledge and practices. That said, the ISO 14’046 provides a very good definition to use right now to have an understandable and standardized method for calculation.
A water footprint is not necessarily one single indicator Given the complexity of water-related issues, it’s no surprise that a water footprint should not be evaluated as a single number. (The standard does allow for the calculation of a single indicator, but this is not recommended because it will include subjective weighting of environmental issues, potentially hiding relevant impacts.)
The indicator that can be called a “water footprint” is a set of indicators measuring the reduced availability of water and the environmental impact due to its pollution (e.g. eutrophication, acidification and toxicity issues). Moreover, the ISO 14’046 provides a set of possible indicators to measure different issues, depending on your objective: water resources scarcity (indicator name: water scarcity footprint), and the reduction of available water due to pollution (indicator name: water availability footprint).
Some Water FAQs
I want to claim that my product’s water footprint is better than my competitor. Will the standard help me?
A better water footprint does not necessarily mean that your product is better. The ISO 14’046 does not allow comparative assertion without considering other issues like carbon emissions. It requires that the superiority of one product over another must be confirmed by a complete LCA according to ISO 14’044. Nobody wants to be accused of greenwashing, right?
I’ve calculated my Blue, Green and Grey water footprint, am I in line with ISO 14’046?
The blue, green and grey water footprints are part of the Water Footprint Network (WFN) method, which is complementary to the ISO 14’046, but not entirely aligned with its definition. The two methods don’t have the same objectives. The WFN method has a much wider scope than ISO 14’046 as it provides a framework to go beyond the numbers of a water footprint to find solutions to reduce impacts. Therefore, the ISO 14’046 water footprint can contribute to finding better solutions to reduce your impacts within the WFN framework. For more information about the complementarities of the two, have a look at this short article.
Are the WFN method and ISO compatible?
The ISO 14’046 can fit very well within the WFN method at the sustainability assessment step, to provide relevant metrics to based decision on. For more information about the complementarities of the two, have a look at this short article.
Does this standard help to calculate my water-related risks?
A risk is a liability, danger or potential negative event a company may encounter, whereas a water footprint reveals real and potential “risks”, i.e. impacts on the environment. It depends on what you want to protect. Having a high water footprint is not necessarily a risk for your company, although it can be a contributing risk factor. For this reason, a water footprint can complement a water-related risk assessment for your company. Although we recommend using existing tools like the Water Risk Filter (WWF) or Aqueduct (WRI) for risk assessment.
Can I certify my water footprint?
The ISO recently changed its view regarding certification and decided to remove all restriction for certification for all standards, including the ISO 14’046. So yes, it is possible to certify it (the ISO 14’040 and 44 will soon be possible to certify as well). Although the certification might be questionable as the interpretation part plays a huge role in the results. Certifying that you calculated a water footprint does not mean you are performing well or that you reduced your impact.
Does the standard provide a methodology to follow?
The standard does not define a methodology to assess a water footprint, but rather defines the requirements, guidelines and principles of it. For this reason, calculating a water footprint will require that first you select a methodology. This is a challenge that is currently being addressed through an international working group called WULCA (Water Use in Life Cycle Assessment). They already published a review of existing methods and concept with some recommendations. Since this field is quite new, even compared to the carbon footprint world, please note that methodologies will evolve in the coming years. Staying in touch with WULCA will ensure that you keep updated with the latest methodologies.
Where do I get data?
Having a methodology is nice, but getting access to data is critical. Your company can collect some of the data, although most of the life cycle information of your company or product will need secondary, or generic, data. Data on water use of materials, energy, transportation, crops, etc can be found in many LCA databases, with secondary data, like ecoinvent or Gabi. The Water Footprint Network has just been published one of the most comprehensive water footprint databases on crops and animal production. Quantis has also published one of the most comprehensive databases on water footprints, including impact indicators for most of the published methodology to date.
So, it’s time to get your feet wet and start calculating your water footprint using the ISO 14’046.
Samuel Vionnet is a water and LCA expert with Quantis. Quantis is a leader in sustainability and Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) expertise, services, consulting and tools. Fuelled by its close ties with the scientific community and its strong track record with clients, Quantis has proven experience in supporting clients as they transform LCA results into business strategies and operational action plans. For more information on Quantis or the Quantis Water Database, visit http://www.quantis-intl.com.
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