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Environment

How Much Do You Know About Water Conservation?

Try to figure out the "virtual water" use in everyday products.

By Boonsri DickinsonApril 28, 2008 5:00 AM

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Every bite and sip you take affects your water footprint. Even the clothes you buy make a difference. So take this quiz and see how water-wise your choices are. A hint to get you started: Less water goes into grains, fruits, and vegetables than into meat because produce is ready to eat after one growing season, while livestock, such as cattle, have to be fed for years.

This was the sort of realization John Anthony Allan, a professor at King’s College London, had when he coined the phrase “virtual water” in 1992. The average vegetarian consumes 1,010 gallons of water a day, versus 1,414 for a meat-eater. So it’s not surprising that Allan tries to avoid meat. “We really need Europeans and Americans to eat more sensibly,” he says. This year Allan was honored with the Stockholm Water Prize. Modestly, though, he credits the environmental movement for propelling virtual water into the limelight.

Since 2002 Allan has worked with Arjen Hoekstra, professor of multidisciplinary water management at the University of Twente in the Netherlands, to create consumer awareness about virtual water. Their Web site, waterfootprint.org (which provided the data for this quiz), is a powerful resource for the environmentally minded. “When you buy a product, you don’t know what the conditions of production are and where the ingredients come from,” Hoekstra says. One of their goals: to have nutrition labels list virtual water content, right next to the calories.

Further reading: Globalization of Water: Sharing the Planet’s Freshwater Resources by Arjen Hoekstra and Ashok Chapagain (Wiley-Blackwell, $64.95)

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