Governance of Globalized Water Resources / Water Footprint: from methodology to practice



Persons involved:

Ertug Ercin (PhD student)

Prof. Dr Arjen Y. Hoekstra (promoter)


The proposed research is funded by funds from the following research projects:

- Water footprint of products (projects from some private companies)

- EU Project


2009 – 2012


Since the Dublin Conference in 1992, there is consensus that the river basin is the appropriate unit for analyzing freshwater availability and use. An underlying hypothesis of the Globalization of Water Research Programme at the University of Twente is that it is becoming increasingly important to put freshwater issues in a global context.

Local water depletion and pollution are often closely tied to the structure of the global economy. With increasing trade between nations and continents, water is more frequently used to produce exported goods. International trade in commodities implies long-distance transfers of water in virtual form, where virtual water is understood as the volume of water that has been used to produce a commodity and that is thus virtually embedded in it. Knowledge about the virtual-water flows entering and leaving a country can cast a completely new light on the actual water scarcity of a country. A second hypothesis of the Programme is that it becomes increasingly relevant to consider the linkages between consumer goods and impacts on freshwater systems. This can improve our understanding of the processes that drive changes imposed on freshwater systems and help to develop policies of wise water governance.

The water footprint of an individual or community is defined as the total volume of freshwater that is used to produce the goods and services consumed by the individual or community. The water footprint of a nation for example shows water use related to consumption within a nation. Traditionally, national water use has been measured as the total freshwater withdrawal for the various sectors of the economy. By contrast, the water footprint shows not only freshwater use within the country considered, but also freshwater use outside the country’s borders. It refers to all forms of freshwater use that contribute to the production of goods and services consumed by the inhabitants of a certain country. The water footprint of a business is defined as the total volume of freshwater that is used directly and indirectly to run and support a business.

The aim of this study is to learn from the practical use of existing water footprint methodology and impact assessment methods, to refine these methods, and to develop practical guidelines for both governments and businesses that aim to extend their strategies towards their supply chains. The practical guidelines will address the question of how governments and businesses can apply the water footprint methodology effectively in their water resources planning and policies.

From business perspective, this thesis aims to apply and improve existing methods for business water footprint accounting and water footprint impact assessment in order to form a basis for businesses to extend their current corporate water strategies to the next steps to be taken: product transparency, water footprint reduction and offsetting. Goals of a business with respect to reducing and offsetting the impacts of its water footprint can be prompted by the goal to reduce the business risks (physical, regulatory, financial or reputational) related to its freshwater appropriation.

With respect to the governmental perspective, a case study of Turkey will be assessed to explore whether the framework of virtual water trade and water footprint analysis can contribute to the identification of national water policy measures alternative to the traditional ones that are limited to measures that try either to increase water supply or to lower water demand by increasing water use efficiency.

Another governmental perspective study for policy development will be the construction of future water footprint scenarios. All existing water footprint studies have focused on past meteorological data and trends in order to calculate water footprints of individuals, nations, products or commodities. In this study, the water footprint methodology will for the first time be applied in a context of analyzing policy options under scenarios of climate change and socio-economic developments. The aim of this study is to assess and understand the effect of increasing greenhouse gases concentrations to water scarcity and water problems. This study can help to guide corrective policies at both national and international levels, and to set priorities for the years ahead.

Finally, this study will provide insights in the practical aspects of the water footprint by comparison of the water footprint with carbon footprint by historical development analysis. The aim is to learn from the history and current carbon footprint applications and guidelines and interpret the results in order to derive possible implications for the further development and application of the water footprint by consumers, governments and businesses.