A new water footprint calculation method integrating consumptive and degradative water use into a single stand-alone weighted indicator

  • Bradley G. Ridoutt
  • Stephan Pfister



A complete assessment of water use in life cycle assessment (LCA) involves modelling both consumptive and degradative water use. Due to the range of environmental mechanisms involved, the results are typically reported as a profile of impact category indicator results. However, there is also demand for a single score stand-alone water footprint, analogous to the carbon footprint. To facilitate single score reporting, the critical dilution volume approach has been used to express a degradative emission in terms of a theoretical water volume, sometimes referred to as grey water. This approach has not received widespread acceptance and a new approach is proposed which takes advantage of the complex fate and effects models normally employed in LCA.


Results for both consumptive and degradative water use are expressed in the reference unit H2Oe, enabling summation and reporting as a single stand-alone value. Consumptive water use is assessed taking into consideration the local water stress relative to the global average water stress (0.602). Concerning degradative water use, each emission is modelled separately using the ReCiPe impact assessment methodology, with results subsequently normalised, weighted and converted to the reference unit (H2Oe) by comparison to the global average value for consumptive water use (1.86 × 10−3 ReCiPe points m−3).

Results and discussion

The new method, illustrated in a simplified case study, incorporates best practice in terms of life cycle impact assessment modelling for eutrophication, human and eco-toxicity, and is able to assimilate new developments relating to these and any other impact assessment models relevant to water pollution.


The new method enables a more comprehensive and robust assessment of degradative water use in a single score stand-alone water footprint than has been possible in the past.


Environmental labelling ReCiPe Water scarcity Water stress Water use Weighting 



This study was jointly funded by CSIRO, Australia and ETH Zurich.

Supplementary material

11367_2012_458_MOESM1_ESM.doc (64 kb)
ESM 1 (DOC 64 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Sustainable Agriculture National Research FlagshipCommonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO)Clayton SouthAustralia
  2. 2.Institute of Environmental EngineeringETH ZurichZurichSwitzerland

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