At the beginning of the project, we found ourselves in the very difficult situation, that we could not find a ready-made water-footprint calculation-tool, that could be used for our organisation. The association Förderverein Offene Bildung Umwelt Kultur itself carries out a variety of different cultural and educational activities. But most of them are singular activities and a lot is supported by voluntary work and is implemented at different places. This led us to the conclusion, that it would be impossible to figure out the water-footprint for all this different activities. So we focused on one activity-field of the association: the running of the tagungswerk guest-house in the educational and cultural Centre KuBiZ in Berlin-Weißensee. We did that as well, because we think, that this facility has the by far biggest water-footprint of our associations activities and that the evaluation and improvement here would have the biggest total result.
The guest-house is 286 m² big, offers beds for a maximum of 27 people and has two conference rooms suitable for 25 to 30 persons each. The facility offers it’s visitors seven showers, six toilets, a kitchen with dishwasher and a washing machine.
The cleaning-process is mostly organized by our staff, but the meals are prepared by the visitors-groups themselves, which are mostly not of our organisations but renting the facilities for short term. Consequently, we could not include the food-production as well as the use of paper and other materials by the other groups in the water-footprint of the guest-house. We could only calculate the water-footprint of the guest-house related to the factors that we can control and change.
Our first attempt to do so, was to use the excel-sheet, which was developed from our partner-organisation Antartide. We got a total water-footprint of 661 m³ out of which 446 m³ was the direct water consumption allocated by the meters in the facility.
But we realized that the use of this calculator might be problematic for us: The calculation is very simplified and mainly includes food, direct water consumption, energy-usage and industrial goods. But in our case we are in some points out of the mainstream: 1. We already use a lot of renewable energy and we tried to make best choices here. 2. We are using a lot of cotton and we have to wash and clean a lot in the guest-house. 3. We have a high demand of energy e.g. for hot-water in the showers etc. 4. The most of the food-consumption is not allocable for us.
So we started to enhance the water-footprint calculation for the special need of our guest-house operation and finally got out a total water-footprint of 835m³.
Use of cotton
The first step evolved out of a simple need: we had to replace a lot of our bedding wares, because they were depleted. During the partnership-project we already carried out, that the agricultural production is one of the most important factors in global water-crisis and that cotton-production is sometimes very problematic. We noticed, that most of our bedding-wares are made of cotton and that we have to think about this in order to make sustainable decisions in the purchasing-process of new bedding-products.
So we started a deeper research about our options and the water-footprint of the different products, that we could afford. We understood, that our choice would have a big influence on the water-footprint of our guest house. So we compared the different materials, products and producers and we made a deeper research on Life Cycle Assessments (LCA) and water-footprints of the different products.
In order to not only focus on the water-issue, we included the energy-usage during the production-process as well: CO2-emissions are strongly affecting the global warming process, which is additionally leading to water-problems.
Beside that, we had to take in account the quality and suitability of the materials and it’s prices. In the best-practice-chapter of this handbook, we describe this process and justify our decisions.
Finally we had a water-footprint of around 130m³ for around 40kg of new bedding-wares. This means an average of 3,25m³ water per kg of bedding-wares. But this number has to be interpreted.
102,2 m³ of the water-footprint is caused by the fibre “Cotton Made in Africa” which accounts for 7,2 kg of the whole material. Only 12,4 m³ are caused from conventional Cotton and 8,4 m³ from organic cotton (GOTS) with a material use of only 0,6 kg. The far biggest amount of material is 22,5 kg of the Tencel® fibre, which assigns with only 5,8 m³ water use. Only polyester has a better water-footprint.
But it is worth focusing on the details here: Cotton made in Africa (CmiA) is a label and an initiative of the “Aid by trade foundation” which was founded by Michael Otto, the head of the Otto group, the world’s largest mail-order company.
The aim of this initiative is to foster the use of cotton produced by small (mostly subsistence) farmers in several African countries. The CmiA-initiative made an Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) of their cotton-production and came to the conclusion that CmiA cotton farmers do “not use any artificial irrigation and practice rain fed agriculture exclusively. They use only a certain selection of pesticides, increased the use of natural fertilizers by building compost pits, and harvest by hand.” The LCA came to the conclusion, that CmiA has almost no blue-water and grey-water footprint (only 1% each) and that ”CmiA cotton emits up to 40% fewer greenhouse gas emissions per kilo of cotton fibre than conventional cotton”. By the way, most of the CmiA-farmers plant the cotton-crop in crop rotation with other fruits, which is protecting the soil.*
Our conclusion is, that this kind of cotton-production is very much more sustainable than the conventional cotton production and should be supported. Conventional cotton on the other side has a blue-water-footprint of around 5,4 m³ per kg and a grey-water footprint of 1,8m³ per kg. As this numbers show, this cotton is mostly produced with intensive farming methods and a high use of fertilizers and pesticides. We could see this negative examples during our partner-meeting in turkey as well. If the cotton comes from China, Pakistan, India and even the USA, it causes big problems there, because of serious water-scarcity in this regions.
The CmiA-initiative on the other hand is providing social, agricultural and economical support for the communities and the farmers with whom they work.
Besides, we decided to use mainly products that combine CmiA with the Tencel Fibre. Tencel has a lot of ecological advantaged and is very environmental-friendly compared with Cotton. Furthermore, it offers almost perfect moisture-treatment and a long durability.
Organic cotton (certified e.g. with the “GOTS”-label) can be an alternative to conventional cotton as well. The grey water footprint of organic cotton is much smaller than the one of conventional cotton and even 30% smaller than the already small footprint of CmiA cotton. But organic cotton still has a huge blue-water footprint. The biggest problem is, that there are no rules in the GOTS or other organic-label restrictions concerning the usage of water. On the other hand it is mostly impossible to get information about the exact origin of the fibre. Finally, it cannot be proved, whether the organic-cotton was produced sustainable regarding water-issues. A huge number of the organic cotton production takes place in Pakistan in areas with high water scarcity and with a very high demand of water.
Finally in our organic cotton water-footprint of only one pillow and one duvet – with together 2% of the total fibre we bought – accounted for 40% of the overall water-footprint of the total 40 pillows and duvets.
Concerning other bedding-wares and textiles used (like towels etc.), we did not make any major purchases in 2014. So we calculated the deterioration of our used products and took this in account. All this products are made of conventional cotton at this point. We will try to improve this in 2015. For the calculation of conventional cotton, we refer to a water-footprint of 13,1 m³ per kg of cotton.
In the future we will try to use more Viscose/Tencel or linen products. When we will use Cotton, we will try to use more CmiA-cotton-products.
The second big factor in the simplified calculation was the use of energy. As we said before, our electricity supplier is the Greenpeace Energy company. Greenpeace Energy’s electricity production is 91% from water-power plants and 9% from wind-energy. The hydro-power plants usually in the water-footprint-calculation have a high water-footprint, as it is mainly coming from big hydropower dams. But Greenpeace Energy only sells energy produced in flow-hydropower plants, that have a very much lower water-footprint. The average is 22 m³/GJ**. We calculated with a water-footprint of 1 m³/GJ, which is a high average number for the flow-power plants evaluated in the calculation on water-footprint.org. 9% of the electricity, that Greenpeace Energy sells, comes from wind-energy, that has almost no water-footprint. By the way, there is as well a photovoltaic power plant on the roof of KuBiZ that is producing solar-electricity. But the plant is connected and sold to the public grid.
Much more energy was spent for heating and hot water production. The heating system of KuBiZ is based on natural gas and solar energy.
It is difficult to get exact data, which water-footprint this energy-consumption has. Following the studies on water-footprint.org, we took the water-footprint of 0,11 m³/GJ in account. The number might be too high, because in the case of electricity a big amount of power gets lost in the grit, what is not happening in a local heating-system like ours. The efficiency of modern condensing gas boilers is very high and it has a very little loss of energy.
But we were calculating with the higher numbers, because there is as well a loss of energy inside the building delivering the hot water and heating energy to our guest-house.
Heating the rooms accounted for around 17 m³ and hot water-production with only 1m³ (approx. 1/3 was produced by a solar thermal system).
Finally, we as well the accounted the energy use of our internet-facilities. The partner Antartide did a research about it and we adapted it to our situation. We got to 2,1 m3 for the use of the guest-web-access and 1 m3 for our websites and email-accounts.
Paper and detergents
Paper production has a big water-footprint in the world. We used 20 kg of printing paper and 65 kg of toilet paper. But because only 1,25kg have been non-recycling-paper, the water-footprint was only 2,5 m³. There is not much improvement possible, because the biggest amount of this is recycling-toilet-paper.
Washing detergent might be a problem as well. But it is not that in our case. We only use ecological friendly detergent for washing and cleaning. Following studies of the Bundesumweltamt this has been only 0,6 m³. (And the electricity for washing is accounted in “energy”)
Direct use of water
The direct water-footprint of our guest-house contains the water consumption in the office and in the guest-house facilities. The office-consumption is only 6,7 m³ cold-water while the guest-house consumes together 440 m³ of cold and hot water. During the research we controlled the facilities, whether they are equipped with water-saving installations. All toilets had water-saving toilet flushes as well as all showers were equipped with water-saving shower heads. The sinks had single-lever mixer taps. The modern equipment of the guest-house offered already very good water-saving conditions. So the only thing that we made was to reduce the flow of the tabs by closing the valve under the sink to the optimum.
Conclusions and outlook
While working on this water-footprint for our organisation, we had to face a lot of difficulties, but finally reached our aim at least partially. At some points, a deeper research would be needed and there are a lot of consumer products of which we could not find detailed data. But in major fields, like the analysis of our textiles use and purchases, we got a punchy result, that provided us with guidelines for our further all day practice with textiles. Our next step will be to evaluate textiles made of Tencel. Especially the missing segmentation between the green, blue and grey water-footprint in this evaluations offers perspectives for development. Furthermore, there is a need to put the calculated virtual water-footprint in relation to the water-stress (or water scarcity) that it may produce in the country of origin. This would allow us to set priorities for the development of our indirect water-consumption.
We were surprised, that more than half of the water-footprint of the guest-house is coming from the direct water usage. But this result is obvious, because we did not take the food in account. This could be a next – but very difficult – step in the water-footprint assignment. As a first step on this way, we did an evaluation of the 9-day long European Erasmus+ Workshop that had been carried out in March 2015. The results are published on the projects website.