Diet change - a solution to reduce water use ?

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Water and land resources are under increasing pressure in many parts of the globe. Diet change has been suggested as a measure to contribute to adequate food security for the growing population. This paper assesses the impact of diet change on the blue and green water footprints of food consumption. We first compare the water consumption of the current diets with that of a scenario where dietary guidelines are followed. Then, we assess these footprints by applying four scenarios in which we gradually limit the amount of protein from animal products to 50%, 25%, 12.5% and finally 0% of the total protein intake. We find that the current water use at the global scale would be sufficient to secure a recommended diet and worldwide energy intake. Reducing the animal product contribution in the diet would decrease global green water consumption by 6%, 11%, 15% and 21% within the four applied scenarios, while for blue water, the reductions would be 4%, 6%, 9% and 14%. In Latin America, Europe, Central and Eastern Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, diet change mainly reduces green water use, while in the Middle East region, North America, Australia and Oceania, both blue and green water footprints decrease considerably. At the same time, in South and Southeast Asia, diet change does not result in decreased water use. Our results show that reducing animal products in the human diet offers the potential to save water resources, up to the amount currently required to feed 1.8 billion additional people globally; however, our results show that the adjustments should be considered on a local level.
Original languageEnglish
Article number074016
Pages (from-to)1-14
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 2014
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • blue water
  • diet
  • food supply
  • green water
  • sustanability
  • water consumption
  • water footprint


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