Spotlight: Water Calculator’s Interview with the Water Footprint Network

In articles about water use and quality, footprints

 

Water Footprinting is a Growing Field

In this interview, we reflect on the past impact and future challenges of this great and growing field. In this edition, we talk to Kai Olson-Sawyer and Robin Madel, Senior Research and Policy Analysts who work on water footprints at GRACE Communications Foundation, a USA-based non-profit. GRACE develops innovative strategies to increase public awareness of the critical environmental and public health issues created by our current industrial food system, and to advocate for more sustainable alternatives. They have been a long-term and much-valued partner to Water Footprint Network.

The Success of GRACE Communication Foundation’s Water Footprint Calculator

GRACE’s Water Footprint Calculator (WFC) has a neat and user friendly lay-out with appealing and simple graphics and clear, straightforward questions. Perhaps these well-thought-out attributes explain the success of this popular tool. What certainly contributed is the undying passion of the team behind it: their efforts to enlighten as many people as possible about sustainable water consumption through their calculator tool have resulted in over 1 million (!) calculator completions.

“It started some 11 years ago, when GRACE was already active in the conservation space. As part of the American Museum of Natural History’s “H2O = Life” exhibit in 2007, we learned about the water footprint concept as an indicator of water use, and we immediately recognized the concept’s power in helping to educate people about their water consumption. So we formed the H2O Conserve program which focused on the water footprint theme and created the first version of the calculator.

After attending an in-person training course offered by WFN in Washington, DC in 2010, we started thinking about how to revise the WFC to make it more user friendly. It took a few years to happen, but the new version of the tool came online in 2015 and we launched a Spanish version in 2016. Now, three years after its launch, we are proud to have had over 1 million users not only take but complete the calculator.

We spent a lot of time thinking about how to formulate the questions in the revised version of the WFC, especially THE question — the meat question. Clearly, a substantial share of a person’s water footprint is based on how much meat they eat, yet it is a sensitive topic. So we settled on the options ‘vegan’, ‘vegetarian’ and ‘meat eater’, and offered differing numbers of servings of meat consumed.

While we had a steady flow of users from the onset, it wasn’t until National Geographic added us to their Freshwater Conservation webpage with tips on how to conserve water that use of our calculator sky-rocketed! Our target audience is school teachers and other educators, and they are our amplifiers. When we see in our analytics a large grouping in a specific location we can tell that an entire class is probably taking the calculator at the same time!

In 2017, we added our ‘deeper dive’ content onto the site because we decided that it was more effective to have all the water content consolidated into one place. We added issue briefs and tips on how people can lower their water footprints. Looking forward, we’d like to further develop the calculator, perhaps by adding a few more questions, so we can increase our impact. We’re thinking of creating profiles for specific user groups with similar lifestyles and situations, such as students or families. And, oh yes, the meat question — we hope to improve it by including chicken, beef, pork and maybe some other types of meat so people can get a better estimate of their water footprint related to how they eat. Of course, while accuracy is important, our main goal is to get people to think: ‘Do I really use so much water? And what can I do use it in more sustainable ways?’

Finally, we will be adding comprehensive lesson plans soon, which will give teachers more to discuss in class after the calculator is completed.”

Are you curious what your water footprint is according to GRACE Communication Foundation’s Water Footprint Calculator? Visit www.watercalculator.org and find out!

Originally published in the Water Footprint Network’s January 2019 newsletter.