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Impact, Innovation and Outreach

Virtual Water - Tony Allan

tony-allanProfessor Tony Allan’s virtual water concept, also known as embedded water, has transformed public and private sector water policy and metrics in the UK and internationally. The virtual water concept demonstrates that the majority of water consumed globally is used within the production and consumption of goods and services, especially food. 

Virtual-water global mapThe virtual water concept can be most simply communicated in numbers. For example, using global averages, one kilogram of beef contains approximately 15400 litres of water, while a single apple contains about 70 litres of water. Virtual Water is the water that is required to feed and rear the cow or grow the apple. 

Virtual-Water-3 carnivore v vegetarian

The concept of virtual water has helped the public, industry, academia, NGOs and decision makers to understand that the majority of water we consume is the water that we eat. The concept informs across scales from national security through to families. Coca Cola, Nestle and PepsiCo have all explored how virtual water can help improve their supply chains and increase the sustainability of their products.  The U.S. State Department, the Dutch Government, the UK House of Lords, the Food and Agricultural Organization, WWF and the Royal Academy of Engineers among others recognize the importance of virtual water in informing environmental sustainability and food security. Virtual water has also created significant business opportunities with a number of consultancies from around the world now undertaking virtual water assessments of business supply chains.

Professor Allan developed the concept of virtual water while researching why Middle Eastern and North African countries were able to meet food security despite their water scarce economies. He discovered that countries import the water they need in the form of food and called this virtual water. For developing the concept of virtual water and for his leadership and contributions across the water sector Professor Allan was awarded the Stockholm World Water Prize in 2008, the Florence Monito Water Prize in 2013 and the Monaco Water Prize in 2013. 

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