By Jon Fisher, The Nature Conservancy
I admit it: I’m kind of obsessed with saving water. Not only have I done everything possible at home (low-flow toilets, showerhead, washer/dryer, dishwasher, etc.), I even stealthily installed a faucet aerator in the bathroom of a favorite restaurant of mine. Since bathrooms in businesses get a lot of use, I couldn’t resist the 4.5 gallons per minute savings. But what if I told you that you could save even more water than me, without being a total weirdo? What if it was free?
In the United States, the average person uses about 69 gallons of water at home indoors per day (25,295 gallons per year) and about 100 gallons of water per day (36,500 gallons per year) if you include outdoor use like watering a lawn. While that is already a lot of water, this number doesn’t even represent all our water use. In fact, the water we use at home is just 3.6% of our total water use! Another 4.4% is industrial, and a whopping 92% is agricultural (food and fiber).
Home water use is declining in the U.S., and you can join in on the fun by saving about 25 gallons per day with standard conservation measures (like low-flow showers). But if you really want to use less water, you can save far more than that by making one tiny change in your diet on a weekly basis.
The trick here is to reduce the portion of water use that goes to agriculture (92%) by choosing different foods. Just as we can calculate a person’s “carbon footprint” to measure their total contribution towards climate change, we can do the same with water. Your “water footprint” includes both your direct and indirect water use (e.g. the water used to produce products you buy), and includes both the consumption and pollution of water. In the U.S. the average annual water footprint per capita is 750,777 gallons; the global average is less than half of that at 365,878 gallons.
So, here’s the quickest, easiest way to reduce your water footprint: Once per week, eat a soy burger instead of a hamburger. That’s it. That single swap saves you a whopping 579 gallons each time, and if you do it once per week it adds up to saving 30,111 gallons per year (more than your total indoor water use at home).