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Water footprints for industry in South Africa Volume I literature review: Applicability of water footprints in South Africa
Expanded Title:In South Africa and other water-scarce countries, tools which can inform efficiency and raise awareness and create dialogue with people not previously involved in water debates are potentially very useful. Water footprints have the potential to contribute in this way, bringing new and important decisionmakers into the water debate in a way that is intuitive and cuts across sectors. Additionally, water footprints create an opportunity for companies to join a global process of disclosure, understand risk and integrate an understanding of water into planning decisions. With this potential, the concept of water footprint has gained significant traction in the past 10 years in the private and public spheres across a variety of sectors. However, water footprint as a tool is still developing and many conceptual and methodological questions remain. A water footprint is an indicator of freshwater use that considers the direct and indirect water required to produce a product, measured over the full supply chain. Water footprint studies have been completed for a variety of entities, including countries, products, commodities and river basins. The country and river basin footprints focus on informing policy, whereas the product and commodity water footprints focus on understanding supply chain risks. While water footprints have significant potential to contribute to corporate water management and to integrate water into decision-making, significant questions must still be addressed in order for water footprints to be a reliable and meaningful indicator. Key questions include: Understanding Impact ; Water Quality ; and Integrating Complexity and Nuance. Water neutrality may be carried out through the use of market mechanisms to offset water use in one region through the investment in water saving or quality improvement in another (nearby) region. This becomes complex however through the recognition of water as a public good, and therefore the commodification of the resource needs to be managed in order to ensure social and environmental requirements are still met. The application of water footprinting to the regulation of water accounting and neutrality is not suggested. Water footprinting is seen as one of many potential alternatives through which water accounting may take place. The decision regarding which tool to use is dependent on the context of the water offset. The National Water Resources Strategy (NWRS, 2013) makes mention of the potential for water offsetting to meet neutrality within stressed catchments. A range of case studies were conducted to understand the applicability of water footprinting to different sectors using different lenses. Using the WF design process, the water footprinting tool was applied to the following case studies: (1) Irrigated carrots from the Ceres area, to represent a local irrigated crop ; (2) Imported beans from Kenya, to represent an imported crop ; (3) Cheese production in the Western Cape, to represent a livestock-based product with an operational water footprint component ; (4) Dishwashing detergent produced in Johannesburg, to represent a consumer good with an operational and a downstream water footprint component ; (5) Manufactured fruit concentrate, to compare the water footprint associated with the growth and processing of different fruits. A comparison was also made between fruits sourced locally and those that are imported ; (6) Extraction of coal from a mine, to represent the extractives industry and explore the grey water footprint ; (7) Combustion of coal to represent the power generation industry and (8) Manufacture of products from a chemical facility in the Vaal to highlight the complexities of a large scale chemical plant Overall, it can be concluded that water footprinting is indeed a useful tool that companies can use as a first estimation of their water use and impact. The major pitfall is the lack of consensus on the use and reporting of the water footprint studies. Companies need to be careful on the reporting of water footprints based just on the numbers, especially for areas that are not well understood and even more critical, on misrepresenting the numbers to suit their outcomes. In many cases there are no clear regulatory framework for disclosure and the reporting of water footprint assessment outcomes, In addition there is no clarity on the application of water footprint tools, for example a company that has undertaken an operational water footprint might report this as their sole water footprint, even though it does not include their supply chains. Due to the disparity in the application of the water footprint concept, there is a need to agree on an industry wide approach on the application of water footprint approaches. This is partly linked to the fact that some elements of the water footprint such as green water are not applicable to some sectors, especially those with no links to agricultural supply chains. For example, for the industrial sector, grey and blue water footprints are more pertinent than green water footprints. Furthermore, the study showed the water footprint data and knowledge base for industries is not well developed, and more work is required to gain confidence in the tool. Going forward, a standardised guide on the use of the water footprint and its application needs to be developed. A starting point would be the updated report that will be released later this year by the Water Footprint Network.
Date Published:01/12/2014
Document Type:Research Report
Document Subjects:Drinking water - Water treatment
Document Keywords:Water Quality
Document Format:Report
Document File Type:pdf
Research Report Type:Technical
WRC Report No:TT 616/14
Authors:Reddy T; Hastings E; Pegram G
Project No:K5/2099
Originator:WRC
Organizations:Pegasys Strategy & Development (Pty) Ltd
Document Size:3 282 KB
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