No.12431   July 29, 2015

About the Potential Impacts of Water Use on the Environment
Development of a New Index Considering Differences in Water Sources
Article Published in Swiss Scientific Journal Sustainability

Tokyo, Japan, 29 July -- An article on the “Water Scarcity Footprint*1,” an index of the impact of water use on the environment that was jointly developed by Suntory Global Innovation Center, the University of Tokyo, Tokyo City University, and National Institute for Environmental Studies, was published in the Swiss scientific journal Sustainability*2 on July 23 (Thursday).

  • *1 Part of the article was presented in July 2014 and was awarded the 6th ILCAJ Award by the Institute of Life Cycle Assessment, Japan.
  • *2 A Swiss scientific journal that addresses sustainability from various viewpoints, including the environment, culture, the economy, and society.
▼ Title of article
     “Water Scarcity Footprints by Considering the Differences in Water Sources”

▼ Joint research group
     Institute for Water Science, Suntory Global Innovation Center
Shinjiro Yano, research scientist
Professor Taikan Oki, Institute of Industrial Science, the University of Tokyo
Professor Norihiro Itsubo, Faculty of Environmental Studies, Tokyo City University
Naota Hanasaki, senior researcher, Center for Global Environmental Research, National Institute for Environmental Studies

Background of research
Water resources are used in various parts of the life cycles of foods and manufactured products, from the ingredients through production and on to consumption, but are differences in their renewability, depending on the time, place, and water source. However, up till now, there has been no index for objectively assessing the potential impact of water use is a way that reflects these differences in the renewability of water.
This time we endeavored to develop a new index that would reflect differences in water source into consideration when assessing the impact of water use on the environment.

Overview of the article
We hypothesized that the impact of water use on the environment was proportional to the land area or time required in order to obtain a unit quantity of water from each water source. Making reference to mean annual precipitation for the entire planet, we were able to obtain the “water unavailability factor” (fwua) depending on the difference in water source environment when the condition where 1 m3 of water could be obtained in 1 m2 of land in one year was taken as the reference condition (Fig. 1).

Fig. 1
(Fig. 1)

By multiplying this factor by the volume of water consumed, it is possible to quantify the potential impact of water use on the environment in a manner that reflects the renewability of water depending on the environment and location of the water source.
The foregoing is an environmental impact evaluation technique that follows the international standards established in the ISO (International Organization for Standardization) Life Cycle Assessment (LCA).*3 This method is also used in the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries’ “Examples of estimation of the WF (water footprint) of agricultural, forest and fishery products.”

  • *3 Technique for evaluating the potential environmental impact of product life cycle, including raw materials procurement, production, and consumption.

Future expectations
Since the new index developed this time reflects the renewability of water depending on the place and the water source, it makes possible a more minute impact assessment  of water use on the environment, and it can be expected to be utilized globally. Moreover, it will enable us to evaluate the effect of water source cultivation by corporations, etc.

<About the Institute for Water Science>
The Suntory Group has established the corporate philosophy of “In Harmony with People and Nature,” and as a corporation whose business depends on water, we think protecting water, using it carefully, and recycling it to the environment are important from the standpoint of fulfilling our social responsibility as a corporation and helping to realize a sustainable society. We established the Institute for Water Science to deepen our understanding of the water we utilize and to protect “water sources” for the future. Through research covering a spectrum that begins with hydrology-based studies of water and the forests that nurture water sources, as well as water source research in and outside Japan, and extends to the water health and palate research that we conduct as a multi-faceted food and beverage company, we are advancing research and promoting the spread of knowledge by pursuing a comprehensive understanding of all aspects of water from “water in the natural world” to “water within the body.”

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