Standardisation provides a framework for credible water footprint claims NZ Life Cycle Management Ce

Standardisation works and Lifecycle cover

Issue 31 – September 2011

A new water footprint Standard, ISO 14046, will provide a framework for credible water footprint claims, and is to be published in the next 2 years. This Standard will help New Zealand to remain competitive and respond proactively to increasing demand from export markets to demonstrate environmental credentials. We talked to Dr Sarah McLaren about standardisation of water footprinting.

Sarah says, 'Standardisation will ensure everyone can play by the same set of rules, plus the framework in the ISO water footprint Standard will stimulate development of new scientific methods to calculate water footprints.' Sarah is Associate Professor in Life Cycle Management and Director of the New Zealand Life Cycle Management (NZLCM) Centre, Massey University. The NZLCM Centre is a collaboration between Massey University, AgResearch, Landcare Research, Plant and Food Research, and Scion, to build capability in LCM.

Sarah is New Zealand's representative on ISO Technical Committee 207, Subcommittee 5, Working Group 8, 'Water footprint' and co-chairs the Standards New Zealand International Review Group on Life Cycle Assessment (IRG LCA). This group contributes to the water footprint Standard and has 41 New Zealand stakeholders, including people with hydrological and LCA expertise. The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry sponsors the administrative support for the group.

Previously Sarah worked at Landcare Research on carbon footprint projects, including commenting on the draft carbon footprint Standard. 'I knew people involved in the developing of the ISO LCA Standards published from 1997 to 2000,' says Sarah. 'I saw the benefits reaped from the development of those early Standards and consolidation of the methodological approach for LCA.

'Currently, there are a variety of methods available to calculate the water footprint of products, processes, and organisations. For example, the Water Footprint Network in The Netherlands has developed an operational method that is widely used. However, an internationally agreed Standard that explains how to calculate a water footprint is crucial to align with other environmental metrics, especially carbon footprint and other life cycle indicators.'

Ensuring New Zealand is well positioned to demonstrate environmental credentials

'Organisations in New Zealand's export markets are increasingly using a life cycle perspective and taking account of environmental aspects in their supply chain,' says Sarah. 'There's been a big focus on carbon footprinting but now people are beginning to get interested in water footprinting. To remain competitive New Zealand needs to position itself to meet these requirements to demonstrate environmental credentials. Our involvement in these ISO Standards builds New Zealand's profile – New Zealand is seen as a responsible player in the area of LCA and footprinting, and willing to play its part in developing more sustainable management systems.

Sarah says the ISO process allows all countries to submit comments and to have these comments reviewed. 'New Zealand has an influential presence on the ISO Water footprint Working Group. As New Zealand's representative for the water footprint Standard, I ensure that New Zealand's comments are considered during the development of the Standard.

'The IRG LCA has put forward some important comments for changes to the water footprint Standard that have been accepted by the ISO Water footprint Working Group. For example, at ISO there was interest in developing a simplified and a comprehensive approach to water footprinting. We did not think that was a good idea and we suggested there should be one approach, but that it could be simplified through use of a preliminary assessment. Now the Standard includes a section on preliminary assessment.'

New members are welcome to join the IRG LCA. Please email for more information.

Related Standards

  • AS/NZS ISO 14040:1998 Environmental management – Life cycle assessment – Principles and framework
  • ISO 14040:2006 Environmental management – Life cycle assessment – Principles and framework
  • ISO 14044:2006 Environmental management – Life cycle assessment – Requirements and guidelines

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