How Much Water Does it Take to Make Your Blue Jeans?

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KnowTheCost exhibit, Piedmont Park, Atlanta.

Question: What do The Weather Channel, 13,000 pounds of ice, and a latte have in common? Answer: A #KnowTheCost installation in Atlanta’s Piedmont Park designed to show the water cost of everyday items we use. A quantity of water most people cannot fully comprehend; hence, all that ice.

To provide the full scope of the amount of water it takes to produce items that are part of our daily lives, here are the items we froze and the amount of fresh water it takes to produce each one of those items.

T-Shirt: Over 713 gallons of water (and often twice that)
Latte: 126 gallons
Soccer ball: 668 gallons
Plastic T-Rex children’s toy: 33 gallons

In total, 43.5 three hundred-pound blocks of ice were used to give visual context to water usage and, more importantly, water scarcity. These are products available from Calcutta to Chicago, Bogota to Berlin, and everywhere in-between. Items we often cannot live without, no matter the cost.

In creating the installation, we remained environmentally responsible by reclaiming wood from an abandoned barn to create the wood platform on which the installation sat. We also filtered the water from the melting ice sculptures and fed it into a water fountain from which people and pets could drink.

Each installation featured a water-cost impact statement to showcase how economically and environmentally vulnerable communities are dramatically affected by water scarcity. For example, did you know:

  • Women in parts of Africa and Asia walk an average of four miles for clean water
  • Children around the world miss a total of 440 million school days every year because of the global water crisis
  • Over 663 million people drink dirty water.

KnowTheCost, Piedmont Park.

These are staggering statistics that most people and enterprises with access to clean water do not think about when producing, selling, or buying goods.

Amazon, the world’s largest online retailer, boasts over two billion items for sale, each which requires a significant amount of water to produce. So, that got us thinking…what if we could tap into an almost endless number of products and then scale the thinking behind our physical installation to connect with even more people?

Introducing The Know the Water Cost Chrome Extension

Available on the Chrome web store, this plug-in replaces the monetary cost with the water cost of thousands of items on Amazon and Amazon Prime Now while serving up facts about water scarcity. Once installed, the plug-in works on both Amazon and Amazon Prime Now to include both manufactured items, meat, and produce.

Water Footprint Implementation, based in the Netherlands, helped us calculate the water cost for both the installation and browser extension using the best available scientific data.

Forecast Change: How The Weather Channel is Addressing Water Scarcity

The exhibit was part of a larger effort by IBM and The Weather Company, which is owned by IBM. It supports and amplifies Forecast Change, an initiative launched by The Weather Channel on World Environment Day. For three days, starting on June 5th, The Weather Channel changed its name to The Water Channel to bring attention to global water scarcity.

But that’s not all. Throughout the year, every time you check the weather on The Weather Channel app, you unlock clean water for communities in need. This is essential as only one percent of our planet’s water is available fresh water.

By understanding that everything we produce, buy, sell and eat takes fresh water to make, it hopefully will help us see those jeans, toys and even that daily latte in a more socially conscious way that results in positive change.


Content Strategist, IBM

Christopher Schifando

Creative Director/Writer, IBM

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