Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Water scarcity challenges to business

The growing scarcity of freshwater due to rising water demands and a changing climate is increasingly seen as a major risk for the global economy. Consumer awareness, private sector initiatives, governmental regulation and targeted investments are urgently needed to move towards sustainable water use.

This is a preview of subscription content

Access options

Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.

Figure 1: Virtual water balance per country and largest virtual water flows related to international trade.


  1. WEF Global Risks 2014 (World Economic Forum, 2014).

  2. Ercin, A. E. & Hoekstra, A. Y. Environ. Int. 64, 71–82 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Haddeland, I. et al. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 111, 3251–3256 (2014).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Orr, S. et al. Assessing Water Risk: A Practical Approach for Financial Institutions (WWF & DEG KFW Bankengruppe, 2011).

    Google Scholar 

  5. Kelly, P. Nature Clim. Change 4, 315–316 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Hoekstra, A. Y. & Mekonnen, M. M. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 109, 3232–3237 (2012).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Hepworth, N. Water Alternatives 5, 543–562 (2012).

    Google Scholar 

  8. Sarni, W. Corporate Water Strategies (Earthscan, 2011).

    Google Scholar 

  9. Simpson, P. Nature Clim. Change 4, 311–313 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Wales, A. Nature Clim. Change 4, 316–318 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Hoekstra, A. Y., Mekonnen, M. M., Chapagain, A. K., Mathews, R. E. & Richter, B. D. PLoS ONE 7, e32688 (2012).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Hoekstra, A. Y. The Water Footprint of Modern Consumer Society (Routledge, 2013).

    Book  Google Scholar 

  13. Brauman, K. A., Siebert, S. & Foley, J. A. Environ. Res. Lett. 8, 024030 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. CDP Global Water Report 2013: A Need for a Step Change in Water Risk Management (CDP, 2013).

  15. Hoekstra, A. Y., Chapagain, A. K., Aldaya, M. M. & Mekonnen, M. M. The Water Footprint Assessment Manual: Setting the Global Standard (Earthscan, 2011).

    Google Scholar 

  16. Draft International Standard ISO/DIS 14046.2: Environmental Management – Water Footprint – Principles, Requirements and Guidelines (International Organization for Standardization, 2013).

  17. Addams, L., Boccaletti, G., Kerlin, M. & Stuchtey, M. Charting our Water Future: Economic Frameworks to Inform Decision-Making (2030 Water Resources Group, 2009).

    Google Scholar 

  18. Schewe, J. et al. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 111, 3245–3250 (2014).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Arjen Y. Hoekstra.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Hoekstra, A. Water scarcity challenges to business. Nature Clim Change 4, 318–320 (2014).

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

Further reading


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing