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Environmental Management & Sustainability Science

The Virtual Water Footprint of Denmark: An Application of the Water Footprint Methodology

The Virtual Water Footprint of Denmark: An Application of the Water Footprint Methodology

 
Clean fresh water is a valuable natural resource, but it is under continuous threat due to an anticipated global increase in both consumption and pollution. The objective of the study is to investigate whether water footprint assessments can provide new knowledge for the Danish water management – thus clearing the way for a more holistic management approach. The study provides a wider perspective on how water is consumed or polluted by Danish activities.

The water footprint methodology divides water use into three categories; namely, blue water, water abstracted from surface waters or groundwaters; green water, water biologically abstracted from the soil matrix; grey water, the water needed to assimilate pollutants. The notion of the “footprint” implies that all products have a virtual water volume assigned; a unit equivalent to all the water consumed and polluted along the chain of production. The methodology provides a conceptual change in modern water management, since water consumption is both assigned to the consumer and the producer, respectively defined as the direct water footprint and the virtual water footprint.

The study is conducted exclusively on a national level, and it includes water from households, public institutions, agriculture and industry. Virtual water bodies are assigned to the trade of 377 agricultural products, whereas industrial water trade is calculated for those 55 countries that account for 98% of all Danish imports.

The Danish water footprint is 35% higher than the world average, and this value has remained rather constant for the last20 years despite significant lowering of the direct domestic water footprint. The virtual water footprint proves to be 14% lower than the direct water footprint due to export of animal products; an export of virtual water equivalent to almost 2/3 of all water used in Denmark. When looking at an average Dane, his actual blue water use increases from 123 l/day to 480 l/day by following the water footprint methodology. His daily coffee consumption surpasses all water used for bathing, cleaning, cooking and drinking, and he can greatly impact his personal water footprint by making smarter product choices.

The conducted research is built on well-tested and well-documented principles, but it is completely new in a Danish context. It opens up for much further academic extrapolation; however, the main result is that the water footprint methodology can provide new knowledge for the Danish water management.

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ENVIRONMENTAL MANAGEMENT & SUSTAINABILITY SCIENCE  master.env.manager@plan.aau.dk

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