The intent of the Water Petal is to realign how manufacturers use water and to redefine “waste” in the manufacturing environment so that water is respected as a precious resource. Scarcity of potable water is quickly becoming a serious issue as many countries around the world face severe shortages and compromised water quality. Even regions that have thus far avoided the majority of these problems due to a historical presence of abundant fresh water are at risk: the impacts of climate change, highly unsustainable water-use patterns, and the continued drawdown of major aquifers portend significant problems ahead.
Ideal Conditions and Current Limitations
The Living Product Challenge envisions a future whereby all manufacturing processes are configured based on the carrying capacity and water balance of the facility’s site and do not impact water quality through any resource extraction methods required for material inputs. We envision a future where water used to make any product respects the natural hydrology of the land, the water needs of the ecosystem it inhabits, and those of its neighbors without diminishing the ability to meet those needs in the future. Water need not be used as a throughput; rather, it can be used, purified, and then used again cyclically—just as nature intended.
Currently, many industries are often able to skirt regulations and avoid ethical water use, or deliberately situate factories in places where impacts to water and watersheds are not regulated. Frequently, goods are made that use water excessively when it is scarce, contributing to the undemocratic and unjust ownership of a resource that should be a basic human right. Therefore, reaching the ideal for water use means challenging outdated attitudes and technology with an approach that treats water as the essential resource it is for all life on this planet.
Water use and release from manufacturing the product must work in harmony with the natural water flows of the site and its surroundings. 100% of the product’s manufacturing water needs must be supplied by captured precipitation or other natural closed loop water systems and/or by recycling industrial water. Furthermore, all water used must be purified as needed without the use of chemicals.
All stormwater and water discharge at the manufacturing facility where the product is made must be treated on-site and managed either through reuse, a closed loop system or infiltration. Excess stormwater can be released onto adjacent sites under certain conditions.
The manufacturer must use the Institute Footprint Calculator to assess and document the water footprint and identify the five processes (key drivers) that make the largest contributions to the product’s cradle-to-gate water footprint. The footprint assessment can be based on a Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) for the product, performed by or for the manufacturer, or use the Institute Footprint Calculator. If a prior LCA is used, the LCA should follow the ISO 14044 standard for a Life Cycle Assessment being used in a third-party communication.
The manufacturer must develop and publicly share a three-year plan to reduce the product’s water footprint and create a water handprint greater than the footprint through one or more of the following strategies:
- Innovate to conserve or recapture more water across the life cycle of the product, compared with the base case.
- Innovate within supply chains to conserve or capture water.
- Engage with users to achieve water conservation and/or restoration.