Assessing and mitigating the water footprint of a business can reduce the risks associated with potential freshwater shortages. Because water is vital in the supply chain and operations of all major industries, depletion of freshwater sources, increases in demand of water, and droughts can threaten a company’s production, financial stability, and reputation. Consequently, it is essential to identify water vulnerability in a business’s operational portfolio and to ensure that the business’s water management aligns with its overall sustainability strategies. Furthermore, understanding a business’s water footprint allows for effective resource management, which can help minimize costs and reduce its environmental impact.
Currently, interest in the water footprints of organizations, products, and services is increasing, creating a need for a shared standard of definitions and methodologies for water metering and reporting. In addition, consistent methodologies for including embedded and indirect water use and a uniform application of analysis boundaries need to be developed. This research aims to develop an accounting methodology for water reporting along with tools for identifying opportunities to improve water efficiency. Additionally, existing definitions, approaches, and best practices for measuring, reporting, and managing water use across different industries are summarized. A conceptual model was developed to evaluate the lifecycle water footprint, including direct and indirect (embedded in energy and materials) water use in both supply chains and operations. Further, a case study is considered to assess the water impact of a mixed-use facility in Palo, Alto, California. Comprehensive water, electricity, and gas metering data were collected for this site, and the water uses of California’s energy mix were determined. Finally, this data set was utilized to summarize direct and indirect water use at a corporate site, and recommendations of water conservation and reuse for this site are considered. Future work includes development of validation and optimization approaches for minimizing water usage. The model was built such that it can be expanded to include multiple sites in the global supply chain in order to estimate worldwide water usage throughout a large company’s operations.