Mapping the water footprint of your crops with Ecometrica, University of Edinburgh & The Data Lab


mockup of a computer with some bar graphs and tables

Mapping the water footprint of your crops will soon be possible with Ecometrica’s new water footprint application. The Ecometrica water footprint application offers commercial clients an easy and intuitive solution to calculate their water footprint, by integrating readily available open satellite data and a process model. This business-led innovation is a collaboration between Ecometrica and the University of Edinburgh, funded by The Data Lab.

Problem Setting:

Water risk presents itself broadly in two forms, scarcity and abundance. While abundance leads to flooding and associated problems, scarcity leads to competition. Many water intense industries like agriculture and energy production compete for water amongst each other and communities in the same catchment area. To transform this competition to cooperation, where companies and communities work towards a sustainable solution, we need to know the total water consumption of our activities.

Calculating your water footprint not only shows the direct water consumption of your activities, it will also tell you the indirect water consumption and how much of the available water you are removing during the year from the catchment area other companies and communities rely on.

Water is therefore becoming a more important (economic) commodity and an increasing risk for companies, which means that companies want to include water assessment results in their decision-making process. However, for many companies it is currently unknown how the (global) supply chain impacts water availability and water quality.

A More Complete Picture:

Many online water footprinting tools do not look much further than the direct water consumption of a company or product. While this gives a general idea of your water consumption it does not reveal your complete water footprint. Ecometrica’s water footprint application determines the total Blue, Green, and Grey water footprint, giving more complete information than existing online calculators.

The Solution:

The Green & Blue* water footprint is determined by modelling the evapotranspiration (ET) of a crop from seed to harvest. Based on satellite data, a time series model has been built to determine the crop’s water requirements (ET). When compared to the area’s available precipitation we can determine if the ET is solely a Green Water footprint. However, if the crop’s ET requirements during the growing period is higher than the available precipitation, the remaining part of the ET will be accounted for by irrigation sourced from ground or surface water. This part of the ET will be the Blue Water footprint.

The Grey** water footprint of a crop depends on the amount of water needed to assimilate any contamination caused by Pesticides, Fertilisers, Nitrogen, and Phosphorus used during the growing of the crop and is calculated based on 11 factors, divided into chemical factors, environmental factors and agricultural practices. The environmental factors, ranging from soil type to rain intensity, can all be mapped, while chemical factors, such as Kd and Koc, are taken from our database. The only client input, except drawing the polygon on the map, will be data on their agricultural practices.


The Ecometrica water footprint application will allow our clients to assess the water footprint of their agricultural products using maps on cloud-based apps and specific data usually available within their organisation. This innovation will also support companies to adopt a more informed selection process of agricultural suppliers, sensitive to more sustainable use of water resources. Additionally, with these water footprint results, organisations can determine their potential sustainability impacts like:

  • Water pollution
  • Contribution to water scarcity
  • Contribution to water abundance

And also:

  • Determine where to apply measures to reduce water impacts
  • Facilitate water efficiency and optimisation
  • Report and communicate their water footprint

*For full methodology: Hoekstra A.Y. et al (2011) The Water Footprint Assessment Manual

** For full methodology:Franke N.A. et al (2013) Grey Water footprint accounting

Reading Time: 4 Minutes

Date Published: March 27, 2018



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