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Water Footprinting Class Helps Companies Stay on “Cutting Edge”


Water FootprintOn November 6th and 7th, we held our annual “Special Topics” course on Water Footprinting and Water Use Assessment in Portsmouth, NH. 

What could be more critical to the future health of our planet and species than water? Yet the Earth’s growing population – along with the rapid development of China and other countries – is leading to increasing competition for water resources.

A number of eager LCA practitioners were in attendance for an opportunity to learn about an important emerging environmental issue from a recognized leader in the field. “Freshwater scarcity is a growing concern,” says course attendee Bill Flanagan, the director of the Ecoassessment Center of Excellence at GE, the group that coordinates LCA activities within the company. That concern will increasingly influence how manufacturing companies like GE make decisions.

Course instructor Dr. Stephan Pfister pfisteris a recognized leader in introducing impact assessment of water consumption into LCA. Pfister is senior research associate at ETH Zurich and serves as editor for water flows in the ecoinvent database, and for water research at the International Journal of LCA. 

“We like to stay on the cutting edge,” says Flanagan, whose entire team attended the course in Portsmouth, NH. “We at GE have such a breadth of products and technologies around the world that our team needs to be aware of the latest methodologies so that we can best leverage our use of LCA with respect to the products and technologies that GE is offering and what the world needs.”

Pfister began by explaining the Water Footprint Network’s concepts of green, blue, and gray water. The discussion moved on to a number of other means of measuring water use and water stress throughout a supply chain, including his own fascinating work. There was ample opportunity to participate in the sometimes lively conversation on these methodologies.

One aspect struck many participants and Pfister himself—the lack of tools available to handle the more comprehensive methods.

“You think of water as water,” says Flanagan, “but what we learned in the course is that water is so integrally involved in so many of the other impact categories that we look at. It’s a constrained resource. Of course, we can take water and purify it, but that costs energy and other associated impacts to make it fresh. It’s all connected and ties together,” Flanagan adds.

The session offered all sorts of perspective-changing insights. “What I learned is that water in all its guises is fundamentally integral to life and ecology as we know it,” Flanagan says. 

Another area where Flanagan expects to apply some lessons learned through the course: “I think one of the interesting areas is to look at the tradeoff between energy and water. In our LCA studies we’ve always focused somewhat on energy and greenhouse gas emissions, among other impacts, but going forward I think we should start looking much more closely at regional water impacts as well. The new methodologies being developed by Dr. Pfister and other researchers will allow us to begin to do that.”

As the leading provider of LCA training, our goal is to continually offer such cutting-edge courses. Check out our 2013 training calendar to see all of our upcoming course offerings. Classes fill up fast, so sign up now!

If you have training-related questions, including inquiries on custom training programs for your organization, please contact us.

Image courtesy Water Footprint Network


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