Approximately 70% of earth is water however 97% of this is seawater and only 3% is fresh water. Of the fresh water less than 0.5% is surface fresh water found in lakes, rivers or creeks the remaining 2.5% of fresh water are frozen in icecaps or glaciers (National Geographic, USGS). In other words more than 99% of Earth’s water is unusable by humans or flora and fauna. These figures should demonstrate the scarcity of fresh water.
There is a common misconception that issues pertaining to fresh water relate to the accessibility of drinkable water in developing countries. However the real problem is the usage of fresh water by developed countries through manufacturing and agriculture. Each product or food directly or indirectly consumes fresh water for its manufacturing or growth until the point of consumption by the consumer. This ‘usage’ is commonly referred to as the “water footprint”.
One apple requires 125 litres of water from growth to consumption, 200 litres per egg, 255 litres for a 250ml glass of milk, 900 litres per smartphone, 1782 litres per kg of sugar, 3178 litres per kg of cheese, 8000 litres per pair of jeans, and 15415 litres per kg of beef (Water FootPrint, LA Times)… These are just examples of indirect water footprints and does not include direct fresh water usage such as showering (on average 45 litres per 5 minutes), laundry (50-100 litres per load) or other activities where we actively use fresh water (Cambridge Water). To put all these figures into perspective the recommended daily intake of water for an average adult is about 2.5 litres a day (EFSA). Therefore drinkable fresh water only accounts for a fraction of our daily usage.
As business students we are all too familiar with the financial costs of a particular activity, product or service. What I would like you to consider in addition to the financial cost is the water footprint of a particular activity, product or service in our daily lives. I am not suggesting that you should starves yourself or run around bare without your favourite pair of jeans but merely to be conscious that all products directly or indirectly consume fresh water and as future managers or leaders find a sustainable way of preserving this scarce resource.
Check out the following website to calculate your daily water footprint: http://waterfootprint.org/en/resources/interactive-tools/personal-water-footprint-calculator/
Han B. Kim | CEMS Club Stockholm