Water Neutral: Reducing and Offsetting the Impacts of Water Footprints

by A. Y. Hoekstra

Jan 1, 2008
During the past few years the water footprint has started to receive recognition as a useful indicator of water use, within both governments (UNESCO, 2006) and non-governmental organizations (Zygmunt, 2007; WWF, 2008), as well as within businesses (WBCSD, 2006; JPMorgan, 2008) and media (The Independent, 2008; The Economist, 2008; Discover Magazine, 2008). The increased interest in the water-footprint concept has prompted the question about what consumers and businesses can do to reduce their water footprint. Several instruments have been proposed, including a water label for water-intensive products, an international water-pricing protocol, an international business agreement on water-footprint accounting, and a Kyoto-protocol-like agreement on tradable water-footprint permits (Hoekstra, 2006; Verkerk et al., 2008). Another concept that has been proposed is that of 'water neutrality'. The idea behind the concept is to see whether humans can somehow neutralise or offset their 'water footprint'. The question is very general and interesting from the point of view of both individual consumers and larger communities, but also from the perspective of governments and companies.

The aim of this report is to critically discuss the water-neutral concept. It first discusses the water-footprint concept, because water neutrality is all about reducing and offsetting the impacts of water footprints (Figure 1.1). Subsequently, the report elaborates the idea of water neutrality. After a generic discussion of the concept, it is discussed what water neutrality means for a product, an individual consumer or a business. Finally, the concept is critically analysed in terms of its strengths and weaknesses.

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