How much water do you eat? (Wonderwater Café)

How much water do you eat? (Wonderwater Café)

As the pressing issues of water and food security zoom into focus at World Water Week, not-for-profit group Wonderwater is preparing to ask UK consumers: ‘How much do water you eat?’. PR professional Katharine Earley explores its founders’ innovative approach to ‘telling the story’ of the water footprint of food through the medium of design, and considers how this may help to inspire consumers to make responsible choices by bringing complex water scarcity issues to life in an accessible way.

How much water do you eat? This is the question posed by Wonderwater to consumers, businesses, politicians and NGOs around the world, as the pressures of population growth, climate change and water scarcity continue to pose serious challenges to our future food security. The group uses creative, thought-provoking design exhibitions and striking café installations to stimulate conversations relating to the water footprint of food, prompting visitors to consider how much of the world’s scarce fresh water (which represents just 3% of Earth’s water) are required to produce the food we consume.

Following successful appearances in Beijing and Helsinki, the pop-up Wonderwater Café arrives in the UK this September and will be staged at theLondon Design Festival in Leila’s Shop, a bustling Shoreditch café known for its organic, responsibly sourced food. Its supporters include World Design Capital Helsinki, WWF Finland, King’s College London and the Arts Council England.

Wonderwater’s founders are passionate about harnessing the power of design to raise awareness of the critical relationship between water and food. The London café will feature menus detailing the water footprint of every dish and drink on offer, highlighting whether its water footprint is low, medium or high. The footprints have been calculated by geography academics at King’s College.

Visitors will be also able to explore dramatic facts and figures conveyed via image-led posters, infographics and raindrop-shaped blackboards throughout the premises. For instance, did you know that the average UK consumer’s daily water consumption is a staggering 4,645 litres?

Over and above the sheer volume of water we consume – whether directly or ‘indirectly’ through food and other consumables – Wonderwater aims to paint a vivid picture of where in the world this water is sourced from and where the greatest ‘virtual water’ impacts occur in the food production supply chain. It also seeks to raise awareness of how this affects the world’s delicate balance of fresh water.

Interestingly, more than 60% of the UK’s water is derived from overseas, according to the Water Footprint Network. Food is one of the top contributors to UK consumers’ daily water consumption, along with paper and cotton clothing, and represents a far greater proportion than domestic water, which accounts for just 3% (150 litres).

Communicating the huge disparity between the water that consumers can seethey’re using and the amount they actually consume is a positive step, in my opinion. It’s an important part of encouraging people to move from an insular view of their environmental impacts to a global perspective. As the world’s population continues to rocket, it’s vital for the Western world in particular to consider its impact on the planet’s resources. I read recently that 80% of the world’s resources are consumed by 16% of its inhabitants. This must change if we are to achieve water and food security for all.

“Armed with the right information, consumers can begin to understand the global flows of water in food production, and opt for dishes with a low water footprint or select food stuffs produced in regions where water resources are not dangerously strained,” Wonderwater co-founder Jane Withers told me. “Agriculture represents by far the largest slice of global water consumption, so the most effective way to enhance the sustainability of our water footprint is through our choices of food and drink.”

It will be interesting to see how audiences from diverse cultures around the world respond to the information presented by the Wonderwater Café as it travels and adapts to different contexts and regions. The café will be in London from 12th to 23rd September 2012.

Opening consumers’ eyes to these pressing issues represents a link in the chain en route to greater awareness of and action on global sustainability challenges. The responsibility then rests with business and government to define more efficient water management techniques and globally respected standards. I will be following World Water Week with interest to understand how discussions progress and whether concrete plans emerge to drive progression on tackling water scarcity.

This article was published on the 2degrees network website.