Chicken vs. Steak. A Matter of Taste or Reducing Your Water Footprint?

By Dr. Mark LeChevallier – November 22, 2013 – Comment

By now, everyone’s familiar with the term carbon footprint. It’s been around for 20+ years, and, more importantly, influential in motivating an entire generation of corporations, communities and individuals to “clean up their act” to reduce emissions and protect the environment.

With carbon footprint awareness paving the way, the concept of a water footprint entered the green arena a decade ago – hoping to drive the same widespread elevation of water usage awareness and responsibility. Thanks to advocates such as the Water Footprint Network, corporations and society are beginning to consider water consumption beyond what they readily see. However, there is quite a way to go. For example, when you buy a bottle of water do you see water consumption beyond the 16 oz. of water it contains?

If you’re like everyone else, no you do not. In actuality, what you don’t see is more than what you do. It could take six times more water to manufacture the bottle vs. what is contained in it. If you consider the label on that bottle, packaging, distribution, obtaining the materials to make the plastic, etc., the water footprint becomes astronomical. For one bottle of water!

Granted, as individuals, we may not have much, if any, influence on how plastic water bottles are manufactured. But, if we have to purchase bottled water, some options are better than others in that they use less plastic and travel shorter distances from ‘source to shelf.’ Moreover, making smart choices on bottled water is far from all that can be done.

A sea of information exists to educate and guide people on how to measure and reduce their water footprint. (You may recall I wrote a blog about this last year, which included one such tool.) The information is quite fascinating … and it runs the gamut, from making lifestyle changes, to simply substituting chicken for steak once in awhile! Here are just a few insights to further demonstrate the variety of influences on one’s water footprint.

Male vs. Female: In the U.S., with the average yearly income and meat consumption being equal, the approximate water footprint for a male is 203,940 gallons/year; for a female it is 187,562 gallons/year.

Meat-eater vs. Vegetarian: In the U.S., with the average yearly income being equal, the approximate water footprint of a female consuming an average amount of meat is 187,562 gallons/year; for a female vegetarian it is 157,182 gallons/year.

Protein Consumption: From highest to lowest, the water footprint for common meats are: bovine, sheep/lamb, pork and chicken. In fact, portion size being equal, choosing steak over chicken for dinner could mean a 3.5 percent larger water footprint.

Beverage Consumption: To improve your water footprint, consider a cup of tea over a cup of coffee. Opt for soda over beer, which has approximately twice the water footprint. Stay away from hard alcohol, possessing a water footprint almost nine times larger than beer. And above all, go with plain water!

Textiles: Love your cotton stonewashed jeans? Approximately 500 gallons of water went into their making. To reduce your water footprint, those who know suggest choosing artificial fiber over cotton.

At home: Probably the most familiarity people have with reducing their water footprint starts at home. Using water-saving devices, taking faster showers, not releasing pollutants down the drain all can help.