As ecological economic fundamentalists argue, we need a new paradigm for changing current global economic system basics. The real problem is that the limits of ecological economics are based on unrealistic or utopian objectives in the proposed research frameworks. Taking this problem into account, present research demonstrates that the combination of mixed methods creates valid results. In this case, the hydrologic footprint reduction method was created to achieve the main objective: to prove the usefulness of combining environmental science techniques along with economics tools. The most important result of the work is the relationships between export/import product balances in the Basque Country, Spain (among the three most important economic regions along with Cataluña and Madrid) and their implications in maximizing effectiveness in saving water and money thanks to external hydrologic footprint analysis. A comparison was made between global and local consumption patterns using the water footprint method. It demonstrated the importance of making small changes, which imply direct and indirect benefits for the economy and hydrologic resources.

INTRODUCTION

Carroll (1979) gives corporate social responsibility (CSR) a true strategic importance, although previous works had been published, such as Bowen (1953). The most fundamental argument is that institutions, both from public and private sectors, have global responsibilities related to their production, marketing and managerial activities. For example, it implies that a chemical industry like a paper mill, situated near a town, should be aware that its gas emissions directly affect the air quality of the surroundings. Thus, inhabitants and the environment are affected, decreasing the quality of living conditions. If we extrapolate the example to other kinds of industries and on a global scale, CSR is one of the most important issues of the century in a sense of strategic management design. Clearly, this results in basic needs of new policies and regulations dependent upon public institutions. CSR needs new approaches beyond stakeholder's theory (Bazin 2009) where a mixture of biocentric and anthropocentric theories should be integrated into a climate change framework as a focus on current long-term sustainability strategy for institutions. It is also important to measure corporate social performance by the link between sustainable management and economic performance (Wagner 2010). So, in this particular case the ecological footprint framework has been used to apply water footprint (WF) analysis. We focus on the WF concept, which was introduced in 2002 by A. Y. Hoekstra from UNESCO-IHE as an alternative indicator of water use. Cooperation between leading global institutions in the field led to the establishment of the WF Network in 2008, which aims to coordinate efforts to further develop and disseminate knowledge on WF concepts, methods and tools. The concept was refined and accounting methods were established with a series of publications from two leading authors, A. K. Chapagain and A. Y. Hoekstra (Hoekstra & Hung 2002; Hoekstra & Chapagain 2007; Chapagain & Hoekstra 2008), from the UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education.

Hydraulic footprint (HF) and virtual water (VW)

The world's combined resources constitute a whole, as is the case when dealing with a country's resources. If we view water as a resource, we come across the concept of VW, which is the volume of water required to produce a good or service (Allan 1998). This concept was introduced by Allan (1993, 1994) when analyzing the VW import as opposed to real water in products from the Middle East. Allan found that exporting a product that has high water requirements (virtual water) is the equivalent of exporting water in such a way that the importing country does not need to use domestic water for a certain product and therefore, can devote it to other areas. As a background, several authors concluded in the book Economic Cooperation in the Middle East – Westview Special Studies on the Middle East Boulder (Fishelson 1989) that it was not very intelligent for countries with water shortages to export products whose production required the consumption of large amounts of water, proposing as a solution, enhancing the specialized production, and hence export, of products with low water requirements. Although the concept of VW has become important in recent years, trade of water has been conducted since antiquity in importing and exporting countries with water contained in products. We focus on the WF concept, which was introduced in 2002 by A. Y. Hoekstra from UNESCO-IHE as an alternative indicator of water use. It demonstrates how sustainable performance helps economic performance (Wagner 2010). Velázquez (2009, 2011) considers that the potential of the concept of VW, beyond the agricultural application requirement of crop water, is based on two factors: first, in the information provided in the water requirements of all goods and services, allowing the quantification of the amount of water needed to produce a quantity of a product (for example, a kilogram of corn, tons of pork, a liter of beer, etc.); secondly, it can be related to trade (reaching its full potential), allowing for the analysis of information on VW flows between regions (mainly countries). Hanasaki et al. (2010) considered the concept of VW as a useful complement to the analysis of water resources, their availability and use in a given region. The four major direct factors determining the WF of a country are: volume of consumption (related to the gross national income); consumption pattern (e.g. high versus low meat consumption); climate (growth conditions); and agricultural practice (water use efficiency) (Hoekstra & Chapagain 2007). Countries in southern Europe like Greece, Italy and Spain, with a 2,300–2,400 m3/cap/yr are behind the USA (2,480 m3/cap/yr) and countries with major WF. Thus, the composition of the consumption package is also relevant (Hoekstra & Chapagain 2007). There are various determinants that influence WF and they vary from country to country. In developed countries, large meat consumption per capita significantly contributes to a high WF. In our specific study, the evolution of feeding throughout history has been influenced by social, political and economic changes. Great voyages and discoveries contributed to the diversification of diet, but at the same time, the abundance or scarcity of food has conditioned the development of historic events. The Spanish Civil War introduced a change in people's diets. From 1960 to 1990, meat consumption increased 243% (Sánchez & Espinosa 2002). Nowadays, meat consumption is also high and this influences the WF of the country. Thus the aim of our research was to prove the potential of saving money and water through management policies that could affect the meat consumption trend. Beyond the controversy of animal cruelty, we should consider the consequences of excessive meat consumption in rich countries and their gradual extension to the world's population.

METHODOLOGY AND FRAMEWORK OF THE HYPOTHESIS

The most important publications on how to estimate WFs are a 2004 report on Water Footprint of Nations from UNESCO-IHE, and the 2008 book Globalization of Water, by A. Y. Hoekstra and A. K. Chapagain, published by Blackwell (2008). Inside the research line of WF, it is possible to find three work scales or levels starting from nations through business up to individual consumption patterns. In our case study, the research was centered on a nation's WF, which shows the water used to produce goods and services consumed by the inhabitants of that nation. It includes two components: the internal and the external WF. The first component refers to the appropriation of domestic water resources, the latter to the appropriation of water resources in other countries (Hoekstra et al. 2009). There are many factors in a region that affect WF, such as hydrology, climate, geology, topography, and so forth. Recently, the concept has been criticized for the term ‘footprint’, which can confuse people familiar with the notion of a carbon footprint since the WF concept, as described above, includes sums of water quantities without necessarily evaluating related impacts. The difference is due to the more complex nature of water; while involved in the global hydrological cycle, it is expressed in conditions both local and regional through various forms like river basins, watersheds, on down to groundwater. Two distinct approaches exist for calculating ecological footprints: component-based and compound footprinting (Simmons et al. 2000). For the purpose of this research we will explain the compound method. In addition, there may be significant differences in the resource requirements of similar products, depending on how they are being produced. Export–import balance captures the resource demand without having to know every single end use, and is therefore more complete than data used in the component approach. Focusing on the objective of the present research, Hoekstra and Chapagain defined two components for the WF consumers: internal water footprint (WFi) and external water footprint (WFe), expressed as WF = WFi + WFe. See also Van Oel et al. (2008).

In the case of the Basque Country and for the final purpose of the present research, the external water footprint is defined as the annual volume of freshwater resources used in other countries to produce goods and services consumed by the population of the Basque region. It is equal to the VW import into the country (Vi) minus the volume of VW exported to other countries as a result of re-export of imported products defined as (Ve,r): WFe = Vi-Ve,r. The total period analyzed was from 1990 to 2010. As a starting data in the case of Spain, this amount is about 45 Gm3 per year related to VW trade for the period 1997–2001 (Chapagain & Hoekstra 2004). Taking into account all ideas the research has the following hypotheses:

  • H0. The VW content of meat consumption cannot save money and water.

  • H1. The VW content of meat consumption could save money and water.

RESULTS AND DISCUSSION

Data and descriptive statistics

We use a dataset from the Basque Country Statistic Institute (EUSTAT) between 1990 and 2010. The Department of Statistics conducts a survey of exporting and importing values of Basque industry sectors and creates a database based on The Combined Nomenclature, which is the tariff and statistical nomenclature of the Customs Union. The Common Customs Tariff is the external tariff applied to products imported into the European Union (EU). The Integrated Tariff of the European Communities is referred to as Taric. Taric incorporates all EU and trade measures applied to goods imported into and exported out of the EU. It is managed by the Commission, which publishes a daily updated version on the official Taric website. The purpose of this regulation is to establish a Combined Nomenclature that meets Customs Union tariff and statistical requirements and to create the Integrated Tariff of the European Communities (Taric). The Combined Nomenclature provides the best means of collecting, exchanging and publishing data on EU external trade statistics. It is also used for the collection and publication of external trade statistics in intra-EU trade. Thanks to the mentioned database, we defined seven variables of study. The survey of EUSTAT represents a unique source of information on northern Spain's international trade with a very high level of coverage across all industries. First, we examined data in order to demonstrate their normal distribution. After the Kolmogorov-Smirnov test, with a risk of 5%, an average of 2.0361 × 108 and a standard deviation of 1.20158 × 108 (see Figure 1), it was proved that the data follow a normal distribution.

Figure 1

Q-Q normal plot.

Figure 1

Q-Q normal plot.

Following the main goal of the research related to the option of saving money through the analysis of a nation's VW content, a Pearson correlation matrix was developed between the following variables: exported meat VW, imported meat VW, imported costs, exported costs, water balance, VW imported ratio, and VW exported ratio.

The Kolmogorov-Smirnov test can be seen in Table 1 and correlations among the variables are shown in Table 2. The results of the table are consistent with the hypothesis H1. The correlation matrices indicate that the variables of meat import volume and hydrologic footprint water balance have a high degree of correlation. From a general point of view, the global trends in the WF of the Basque Country are increases in the internal and external WF related to international commerce since 1990. In Figure 2, you can see how the imported HF of the BQ (Basque Country) has increased since 1990, while noting, however, that there were anomalies in the years 2000, 2006 and 2009.

Table 1

Kolmogorov-Smirnov test

 Kolmogorov-Smirnova 
 statistic gl Sig. 
VW 0.175 21 0.092 
 Kolmogorov-Smirnova 
 statistic gl Sig. 
VW 0.175 21 0.092 

aK-S test with a significance of 0.092.

Table 2

Variables correlation matrix

 Export Import Euro_expo Euroimpor VWbalan 
Export Correlation Pearson 0.096 0.897** 0.369 0.238 
Sig. (bilateral)  0.678 0.000 0.100 0.298 
21 21 21 21 21 
Import Correlation Pearson 0.096 0.317 0.535* −0.944** 
Sig. (bilateral) 0.678  0.161 0.012 0.000 
21 21 21 21 21 
Euro_expo Correlation Pearson 0.897** 0.317 0.590** −0.011 
Sig. (bilateral) 0.000 0.161  0.005 0.962 
21 21 21 21 21 
Euroimport Correlation Pearson 0.369 0.535* 0.590** −0.400 
Sig. (bilateral) 0.100 0.012 0.005  0.072 
21 21 21 21 21 
VWbalanc Correlation Pearson 0.238 −0.944** −0.011 −0.400 
Sig. (bilateral) 0.298 0.000 0.962 0.072  
21 21 21 21 21 
 Export Import Euro_expo Euroimpor VWbalan 
Export Correlation Pearson 0.096 0.897** 0.369 0.238 
Sig. (bilateral)  0.678 0.000 0.100 0.298 
21 21 21 21 21 
Import Correlation Pearson 0.096 0.317 0.535* −0.944** 
Sig. (bilateral) 0.678  0.161 0.012 0.000 
21 21 21 21 21 
Euro_expo Correlation Pearson 0.897** 0.317 0.590** −0.011 
Sig. (bilateral) 0.000 0.161  0.005 0.962 
21 21 21 21 21 
Euroimport Correlation Pearson 0.369 0.535* 0.590** −0.400 
Sig. (bilateral) 0.100 0.012 0.005  0.072 
21 21 21 21 21 
VWbalanc Correlation Pearson 0.238 −0.944** −0.011 −0.400 
Sig. (bilateral) 0.298 0.000 0.962 0.072  
21 21 21 21 21 

Note:p-values *0.05 and **0.01.

Figure 2

Imported water footprint between 1990–2010 for the Basque Country.

Figure 2

Imported water footprint between 1990–2010 for the Basque Country.

See Figure 3 for the case of exported WF.

Figure 3

Exported water footprint between 1990–2010 for the Basque Country.

Figure 3

Exported water footprint between 1990–2010 for the Basque Country.

On the other hand, a specific analysis related to interchange degree and commerce balance can be seen in Figure 4.

Figure 4

Real relationship of meat trade.

Figure 4

Real relationship of meat trade.

In all cases the IRR degree shows major needs of exports. Based on previous figures, an impact analysis of changes in Water Balance is recommended, thus Table 3 shows a table with VW scenario reduction after a 5% reduction in imports.

Table 3

Five percent reduction in imports

year Water balance Water balance (−5%import) WB save % 
1990 915556988 759930166.7 17 
1991 539866002 402781845.4 25.3 
1992 681631105 524245757.7 23.1 
1993 543004698 416085176.8 23.3 
1994 633877348 480368632.6 24.2 
1995 1246002205 1055828293 15.2 
1996 814389144 630636179.8 22.5 
1997 787066232 503107155.6 24.6 
1998 1480356464 1250643101 15.5 
1999 2273114433 2016618954 11.2 
2000 1710427839 1471594475 13.9 
2001 925037287 730710996.4 21 
2002 923895442 715319423.6 22.6 
2003 1023450288 807211095.2 21.1 
2004 1248097670 1027364426 17.7 
2005 1290037350 1042459125 19.2 
2006 3399491803 3169032019 6.7 
2007 697239528 941275411.8 −35 
2008 7162493818 7424257285 −36 
2009 749907395 520385911.9 30.6 
2010 3026735 238103503.3 −7766 
year Water balance Water balance (−5%import) WB save % 
1990 915556988 759930166.7 17 
1991 539866002 402781845.4 25.3 
1992 681631105 524245757.7 23.1 
1993 543004698 416085176.8 23.3 
1994 633877348 480368632.6 24.2 
1995 1246002205 1055828293 15.2 
1996 814389144 630636179.8 22.5 
1997 787066232 503107155.6 24.6 
1998 1480356464 1250643101 15.5 
1999 2273114433 2016618954 11.2 
2000 1710427839 1471594475 13.9 
2001 925037287 730710996.4 21 
2002 923895442 715319423.6 22.6 
2003 1023450288 807211095.2 21.1 
2004 1248097670 1027364426 17.7 
2005 1290037350 1042459125 19.2 
2006 3399491803 3169032019 6.7 
2007 697239528 941275411.8 −35 
2008 7162493818 7424257285 −36 
2009 749907395 520385911.9 30.6 
2010 3026735 238103503.3 −7766 

There is a significant reduction of VW trade, due to imports reduction. Anomalies appear in 2007, 2008 and 2010 where savings should be made by reduction in exports. Finally achievement of the dual objective, regarding saving water and money is shown in Table 4 where a 5% reduction in imports translates into 592,005 mil€ and 29,608 m3 of water saved.

Table 4

Saving water and money

Imports based savings 
Money (euro mil) Water m3/T 
16,475 824 
14,833 742 
18,286 914 
13,370 668 
18,099 905 
27,299 1,365 
25,703 1,285 
27,350 1,367 
29,822 1,491 
28,826 1,441 
28,265 1,413 
27,366 1,368 
28,458 1,423 
29,837 1,492 
30,885 1,544 
31,332 1,567 
37,487 1,874 
44,029 2,201 
42,885 2,144 
31,725 1,586 
39,727 1,986 
592,056 29,603 
Imports based savings 
Money (euro mil) Water m3/T 
16,475 824 
14,833 742 
18,286 914 
13,370 668 
18,099 905 
27,299 1,365 
25,703 1,285 
27,350 1,367 
29,822 1,491 
28,826 1,441 
28,265 1,413 
27,366 1,368 
28,458 1,423 
29,837 1,492 
30,885 1,544 
31,332 1,567 
37,487 1,874 
44,029 2,201 
42,885 2,144 
31,725 1,586 
39,727 1,986 
592,056 29,603 

ARGUMENTS FOR REDUCING MEAT CONSUMPTION AND MANAGERIAL IMPLICATIONS

Animal welfare agencies have increased public awareness about the unfortunate practices involved in the intensive rearing of commercial livestock. Intensive livestock production can be harmful to the environment. The livestock industry contributes approximately 10% of the planet's greenhouse gas emissions. Cattle, in particular, are known to generate significant levels of the methane and carbon dioxide that contribute to global warming. Whether this could be considered a serious reason to reduce meat consumption is yet to be determined. Those extremely opposed to commercial livestock ventures will often claim that no reduction of greenhouse gases can be reliably attributed to organic or holistic based agricultural practices. A more realistic view would suggest that some livestock production is actually beneficial to the environment and important for maintaining a diverse and balanced agricultural ecosystem.

CONCLUSIONS

This paper briefly describes the VW content of a region within Spain. The main goal of the research has been to demonstrate that the meat consumption market could be better managed in order to save money and water. Thus, the research represents the first step in the process of developing a comprehensive long-term strategy in the line of sustainable behavior at three decision levels: local, regional and national. The geographical region chosen for this research is described as quite rich, having a large importation capacity that translates into meat product dependency, and faces problems connected to lack of knowledge regarding the VW content of products. The industrial sectors and the environment take mutual advantage of one another (Sepúlveda 2011). Note that VW imports were more or less similar between 1990–2000, thereafter decreasing, and increasing once again from 2006 to 2010. With regards to the calculation being done, most water expenses are related to the high volume of imported bovine meat and products like cereals, tea and coffee. The relationship between WFexports, WFimports and their respective economic costs is also noteworthy. This revealed that the Basque region has high potential to save money and contribute to the global problem of water scarcity. This could be implemented by improving its policy (Shi 2004) (innovation, education, environmental, etc.) related to non-strategic product imports that imply a high volume of VW content.

FURTHER RESEARCH

For future research, we suggest a study on temporal variation of WF and the possible relation to external factors that affect international commerce, such as China or India, while South American countries arrive on the market. We have also observed important limitations in the study including the fact that in the database used there is no information on the re-exportation volume of imported meat. Finally, a calculation of the grey (the volume of polluted water that associates with the production of all goods and services for the individual or community), blue (volume of freshwater that evaporated from the global blue water resources, surface water and ground water, to produce the goods and services consumed by the individual or community) and green (the volume of water evaporated from the global green water resources, rainwater stored in the soil as soil moisture components) of the present study would be of great interest.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

The author would like to thank EUSTAT (Basque Statistic Institute), for data and assistance. The author would also like to thank colleagues from Tecnalia PhD Maddalen Mendizabal for their fruitful interactions on problem definition and for useful comments on this paper.

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