Buy all the water-efficient appliances you want; a household’s indirect water usage, embodied in the consumption of goods and services, is far more significant, according to a paper published in the latest issue of Building Resources and Information. Agua is involved in everything we use or wear, from that state-of-the-art toaster to your favorite Rolling Stones T-shirt. “Water is required to obtain raw materials, in the manufacturing process, in transportation and to sell the item,” says Robert H. Crawford, a lecturer in the Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning at the University of Melbourne and the study’s primary author. “Every item or service purchased by a household has a long line of resources and water usage.”
Take a pair of jeans, for example. Its water usage isn’t limited to the number of times you throw it in the wash. The wet stuff also played an indispensable role in growing and harvesting the cotton, milling the fibers, dyeing them a lovely shade of indigo, and imbuing them with one of many possible finishes, not to mention creating the electricity that powered the equipment at every stage.
A household’s indirect water use could easily fill 54 Olympic-size swimming pools over 50 years, the study says.
For a planet on the brink of a global water crisis, Crawford’s findings cannot be overstated. The direct water consumed by a single family for drinking, washing, showering, and cooking amounts to four Olympic-size swimming pools over 50 years. Compare that, however, to its indirect or “embodied” water usage for home maintenance, food, clothing and other consumables, financial services, cars, and holiday travel. By Crawford’s estimations, the final tally could easily fill 54 Olympic-size swimming pools, accounting for a whopping 94 percent of the household’s water footprint.
“We don’t tend to think about the resources that have gone into making the products that we purchase on an everyday basis,” he says. “The more clothes we buy, the more food we eat, the more water we consume.”
Not that taking shorter showers and turning off faucets won’t make a difference, but upgrading your dishwasher to save water isn’t all you can do. Opting for secondhand clothing and furniture, minimizing food waste, and cutting down on electricity use will have a much greater impact on reducing your water footprint, says Crawford. “Another important aspect in reducing a household’s water footprint, is building smaller and longer-lasting housing, he adds. “This means we need less furniture to fill them and less energy to run them.”