Water Footprint and Water Use Assessment in LCA

Two days, 9am - 5pm

Students should have completed at least one LCA.


  • Ridoutt, Bradley; Pfister, Stephan 2012. A new water footprint calculation method intergrating consumptive and degradative water use into a single stand-alone weighted indicatior. The International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment 2012, online.
  • Ridoutt, B.G.; Pfister, S. 2012. A revised approach to water footprinting to make transparent the impacts of consumption and production on global freshwater scarcity. Global Environmental Change-Human and Policy Dimensions 2010, 20, 113-120.
  • UNEP (2012) Measuring water use in a green economy, A Report of the Working Group on Water Efficiency to the Internaitonal ResourcesPanel. McGlade, J., Werner, B., Young, M., Matlock, M., Jefferies, D., Sonnemann, G., Aldaya, M., Pfister,S., Berger, M., Farell, C., Hyde, K., Wackernagel, M., Hoekstra, A., Mathews, R., Lui, J., Ercin, E., Weber, J.L., Alfieri, A., Martinez-Lagunes, R., Edens, B., Schulte, P., von Wiren=Lehr, S., Gee, D.  http://www.unep.org/resourcepanel/Publications/MeasuringWater/tabid/1021... (Focus on chapter 3 and 4)
  • Hoekstra, A.Y., Chapagain, A.K., M.M. and Mekonnen, M.M. (2011). The water footprint assessment manaul: Setting the global standard, Easthscan, London, UK.


Course Objectives: 

To provide participants with the knowledge to perform a water footprint based on Life Cycle Thinking.

This course will familiarize you with the relevant concepts and background information of water footprinting and water use assessment in LCA. A mixture of lecture (day 1) and practical modeling (day 2), this course will guide you through steps for preforming a water footprint study.


Water footprint has become one of the main issues addresses by environmentally leading companies to complement their carbon footprints. While traditionally used in LCA of food and power products it has become increasingly prominent as a standalone indicator. In contrast to carbon footprint, regional aspects are essential for inventory water flows as well as for quantifying related environmental impacts. This involves advanced LCA modeling techniques of regionalization, which are so far not intergraded in any major software solution and thus require some manual adjustments. Stephen Pfister, one of the world's leading experts, will take you through two days of teaching about water scarcity and human water use training on water footprint execution and support of specific exercises providing you in-depth understanding and knowledge to carry out and analyze proper water footprint studies.


The class is taught by Dr Stephan Pfister who has been a leading actor in introducing impact assessment of water consumption into LCA providing one of the main regionalized inventory datasets and framing the water footprint methodology during his PhD and post-doc time. This contribution has been characterized by SETAC Europe LCA Young Scientist Award and the ETH medal for an outstanding dissertation. He is senior research associate at ETH Zurich and serves as editor for water flows in the ecoinvent database as well as for the water research at the International Journal of LCA.

  • General overview of the water cycle - natural and man-made - for setting the scene and understanding why and when water use and scarcity are of relevance. This includes considerations of the water-energy and water-food nexus.
  • Describing the water use between nature and technosphere and the importance of and the challenges to evaluating the different flows in inventory data collection.
  • Presenting existing water inventory database such as ecoinvent v3.
  • Overview of different water footprint approaches, comparing the main differences. Discussion of what the different metrics express and what is intended in their communication.
  • Description of relevant impact pathways and of the related impact assessment methods:
    • Water consumption (quality loss)
    • Water degradation (quality loss)
    • Indirect effects (e.g. NOx and CO2)
  • Summary and evaluation of current discussions in the research communities and of the ISO standardization process:
    • Definition of a basic water footprint approach and potential extension to it
    • Discussion of the differences of stand-alone water footprint and water use assessment in a full LCA
  • Practical water footprint study (hands-on learning case)
    • Determination of water footprint study goal and approach
      • Life cycle approach and overview generally important supply chain processes
      • Selection of water footprint scope: combination of impact categories (set of water quantity and quality effects included)
      • Definition of scope: regional resolution (spatial detail)
    • Inventory data collection and working with the limitations (uncertainties and data gaps)
    • Application of regionalization in LCA. Practical example of performing a case study with available datasets and software tools and comparison of results using different spatial resolution
    • Comparing results of different scopes and discussion of uncertainties
    • Interpretation of the study: what can be concluded and where are the major improvement opportunities for the study itself and the system modeled
  • Practical hands on modeling of attendee's case studies (number done as time permits)



This is a two day class. Lunch is provided. All students are required to bring a laptop which has Internet wireless connection. For some exercises, a spreadsheet and SimaPro will be helpful. If you do not have the SimaPro software, we will provide you with a temporary license.