Aims & history

At Water Footprint Network, we believe that sustainable use of fresh water is a critical foundation for healthy lives and a healthy planet. As our consumer society grows and pressure on our limited supply mounts, the race is on for us to rethink and ultimately, transform the ways in which we use and manage water. To keep us on track, we have a vision of the world we would like to live in.

Our vision: A world in which we share clean fresh water fairly amongst all people to sustain thriving communities and nature’s diversity.

It is going to take more than the Water Footprint Network to bring this vision to life; it is going to take a global community of dedicated individuals and committed organisations. We believe the Water Footprint has something special to bring as we all work together to achieve fair and smart water use. We have made this our mission.

Our mission: To provide science-based, practical solutions and strategic insights that empower companies, governments, individuals and small-scale producers to transform the way we use and share fresh water within earth’s limits.

Founded as a non-profit, multi-stakeholder network, the Water Footprint Network will focus its efforts in three key areas: the private sector, the public sector and individuals. We have set for ourselves the following three goals:

  • Companies direct resources strategically into ensuring the economic efficiency and environmental sustainability of water use in operations, supply chains and river basins
  • Governments promote fair and smart water allocation and implement the policies, regulations and governance necessary to achieve this in river basins worldwide
  • Consumers increasingly acknowledge and consider the impacts on water of their consumption choices by taking steps to reduce their own water footprint

To achieve these goals, we work in three strategic pillars:

  • Driving action by companies, governments and individuals towards sustainable, efficient and equitable water use
  • Building community to escalate change in river basins worldwide
  • Sharing knowledge and training practitioners to solve the world’s water crises

We look forward to working with you so we can all live in the world we envision.


Village in the White Nile swamps near Bor, Jonglei, South Sudan (6°22’ N – 31°32’ E) © Yann Arthus-Bertrand / Altitude


In 1993, Professor Tony Allan introduced the concept of virtual, or embedded, water to understand how arid countries can feed their people. Building on this concept of virtual water, in 2002, Professor Arjen Hoekstra, whilst working at UNESCO-IHE, created the water footprint as a metric to measure the amount of water consumed to produce goods and services along the full supply chain. This provided a metric for measuring the virtual water of goods that are produced in one location, and consumed elsewhere.

Interest in the water footprint grew rapidly after its introduction in academic literature. In the mid-2000’s, companies, in particular food and beverage companies such as Unilever, SABMiller, Heineken, Coca-Cola, Nestle and Pepsico, became increasingly aware of their water dependence and the water-related risk facing their companies.

In 2008, Hoekstra, together with leading global players from business, civil society, multilateral organisations and academia, founded the Water Footprint Network with the aim of bringing together some of the brightest minds committed to demonstrating how Water Footprint Assessment can help us overcome the challenges of unsustainable water use

Find out more