Global Water Footprint Standard

Founded on a decade of research and application, the Global Water Footprint Assessment Standard lays out the internationally accepted methodology for conducting a Water Footprint Assessment.

The standard has been applied and tested worldwide across many sectors and includes detailed instruction and guidance on the following:

  • How to calculate the green, blue and grey water footprint to understand the geographic and temporal allocation of water resources for industry, agriculture and domestic water supply
  • How to conduct a water footprint sustainability assessment which includes criteria for understanding the environmental sustainability, resource efficiency and social equity of water use, for both consumption and pollution
  • How to use the results of the water footprint accounting and sustainability assessment to identify and prioritise the most strategic actions to be taken in local, regional, national and global scales, individually and collectively

The Global Water Footprint Assessment Standard will help us achieve fair and smart use of the world’s fresh water.

How can the standard be used?

The Global Water Footprint Assessment Standard can be used to provide comparable quantification and robust analytics that will support companies on their corporate water sustainability journey.

It can be used at different geographic scales from the smallest sub-catchments to large river basins, for municipalities, provinces, nations and the whole world and can help governments manage water resources and achieve sustainable development.

The standard can be used by researchers to develop water footprint statistics, which can be found in our online database, WaterStat, and are useful in awareness raising as well as for conducting Water Footprint Assessment studies.

Where can it be found?


The Global Water Footprint Assessment Standard can be found in the Water Footprint Assessment Manual: Setting the Global Standard, published in 2011.

The book offers a complete and up-to-date overview of the global standard on Water Footprint Assessment as developed by the Water Footprint Network. More specifically it:

  • Provides a comprehensive set of methods for water footprint assessment
  • Shows how water footprints can be calculated for individual processes and products, as well as for consumers, nations and businesses
  • Contains detailed worked examples of how to calculate green, blue and grey water footprints
  • Describes how to assess the sustainability of the aggregated water footprint within a river basin or the water footprint of a specific product
  • Includes an extensive library of possible measures that can contribute to water footprint reduction

Additional guidelines for implementing the standard are being developed, for example Grey Water Footprint Assessment: Tier 1 Guidelines were published in 2013. The standard is being implemented in the Water Footprint Assessment Tool and the water footprint statistics available online from WaterStat have been developed using the standard.

Download a Portuguese or Chinese translation of the “Water Footprint Assessment Manual: Setting the Global Standard” here.

Order a Korean translation here.

A Spanish version will be available soon.

History of the global standard

A first version of the Global Water Footprint Assessment Standard was completed in 2009 built upon extensive research and practical application. After consultations with practitioners and researchers and review by the Water Footprint Network’s Scientific Peer Review Committee, the current version of the standard was published in 2011. We continue to develop the standard. For example, we added “tier 1 grey water footprint guidelines” in December 2013 to refine the grey water footprint calculations.


Following the publication of the first version in 2009, the Water Footprint Network requested feedback on the standard. In addition, two working groups were formed. One addressed questions around the grey water footprint and the other studied issues pertaining to water footprint sustainability assessment.

In collaboration with the Water Footprint Network, a number of partners initiated pilot projects that aimed at exploring the practical implications of using Water Footprint Assessment in formulating a corporate water strategy or water policy in a specific geographical setting. On the basis of the feedback received – new scientific publications, experiences from practical water footprint projects and working group reports – the Water Footprint Network prepared a draft of the revised standard. Our Scientific Peer Review Committee reviewed the draft version and made specific recommendations. The current standard is based on the incorporation of those recommendations.

Future outlook

Research in this area is rapidly developing worldwide and a broadening base of Water Footprint Assessment applications are being initiated across all sectors of the economy, in many countries of the world.

In order to learn from the various on-going, practical Water Footprint Assessment projects and from new scientific publications, we invite everyone to provide feedback on the their experience with applying the standard. In this way, we hope to make best use of the diverse experiences that individuals and organisations have when conducting Water Footprint Assessment within different contexts and for different purposes.

We aim to further develop the Water Footprint Assessment methodology so that it best serves the various purposes that different sectors in society require whilst, at the same time, striving for coherence, consistency and scientific scrutiny.

If you would like support in applying the Global Water Footprint Assessment Standard or want to find out more about our training courses, please contact us.