Highlights from our May B Learning Lunch

Water Footprinting for Business 101

with Heather Schrock, Environmental Products Representative, Bonneville Environmental Foundation
Thursday, May 31, 2018

Heather Schrock joined us again at Hopworks for the second installment of her two-part series of talks on environmental footprint for business, this time on measuring a company’s water footprint. In her talk, Heather addressed some questions that companies face on the B Impact Assessment around measuring water usage, and actions that a company has taken to measure and reduce its water footprint. 

Download Heather's Presentation PDF.

Highlights from Heather's presentation:

Consider Water Usage Every Day
It’s important to remember that water is a part of everything that we do. While agriculture takes up 70% of water usage, industry is 20%, and domestic use just 10% of the pie, there is embodied water usage in everything—the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the furniture we use. In fact, the average American has approximately 2000 gallons of embedded water usage every day. Heather presented a number of mind-blowing statistics about how many gallons of water it takes to produce certain products, for example:

  • 37 gallons to make a cup of coffee
  • 2900 gallons to make a pair of jeans
  • 634 gallons to produce 1lb of beef

A Framework for Water Footprint
When it comes to measuring water footprint, unfortunately there are fewer resources and guidelines out there for companies. Unlike carbon production and footprinting, which has extensive international protocols and regulatory & measurement frameworks, it’s hard to find something at a similar level for water.

Heather has come up with her own framework for identifying a company’s water usage that mirrors that of the “scopes” used for greenhouse gases. This framework is a helpful tool for thinking about water usage in similar way to carbon foot printing, which Heather covered in May’s talk (did you miss it? read the recap here).

The three water "scopes" are:
Scope 1: Direct usage by the company, e.g. the water bill.
Scope 2: Indirect or embedded usage, upstream usage, e.g. the water used to produce the fabric to make a pair of jeans.
Scope 3: Indirect or downstream, or the water expended by customers to make the end product, for example 8oz of water to make a cup of tea.

4 Pillars of Water Stewardship
Heather covered the four pillars of water stewardship:
Conservation - refers to savings at the tap - working to save water that has already been drawn out of natural source and into the municipal water system.
Efficiencies - implementing new tools or technologies to reduce water use during company activities.
Awareness - for example, putting up signs or conducting campaigns to reduce water usage.
Balance - a similar concept to ‘offsetting’ which is done for carbon, this is the work that is done upstream to keep water in natural source, such as restoring a natural water habitat. This is the focus of much of BEF’s work with Water Restoration Certificates, for example at Prickly Pear Creek.

Balancing Water Use with Water Restoration Certificates®:
WRCs are a unique tool offered by Bonneville Environmental Foundation, which are modeled off of carbon offsets or renewable energy certificates. They can be especially useful for smaller business that are seeking ways to achieve water stewardship goals and minimize their water footprint. Each certificate represents 1,000 gallons of water, restoring the economic, recreational, and ecological vitality of national freshwater resources. These certificates allow for a volumetric measurement of a company’s water improvement efforts that they can report on something like an impact report or assessment. Learn more about WRCs at BEF’s website.

Steps for Approaching Water Footprint for Business

  • Measure: Scopes 1, 2, 3 (material to your business)
  • Establish a baseline year
  • Set reduction goals over a period of time
  • Manage inventory and reductions compared to baseline
  • Use offsets to address unavoidable impacts
  • Public reporting (GRI G4, CDP, B-CORP, Sustainability Report. AWS)

Further links/reading:

Check out Heather’s slide deck for more resources and contact her if you have questions: hschrock@b-e-f.org

Thank You, Canvas Host!
We also want to offer a big thanks to Canvas Host for sponsoring our lunches and supporting collaboration and learning to increase our social and environmental impact.

Photos from the May B Learning Lunch