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Water Conservation Certification (WCC) to reduce food waste [UPDATE 16/10/16: prototype 9]

Offering Water Conservation Certificates (WCC) to businesses that donate excess food to redistribution organisations.

Photo of Aine Gormley-Gallagher

Written by


Food makes up the largest part of our water footprint. In the US, for instance, agriculture accounts for 80% of water consumption. Producing 1 kg of chocolate requires approximately 17,196 litres of water, and 1 kg of dry pasta uses 1849 litres of water in production.

Yet, 30-40% of all food produced globally every year is wasted, while freshwater scarce areas of countries worldwide are continuing to rise. In California, the period between 2011 and 2014 was the driest in its history, but per capita water use increased (PPIC, 2015). In Iran, overconsumption and poor rainfall have devastated its agricultural output in many areas. In England, the southern and south-east region is officially classified by the Environment Agency as being in serious water stress (GOV.UK, 2013).

Businesses in water-stressed (or soon to be water-stressed) areas are at risk, thus investors are increasingly considering water supply during decision-making processes (GrowingBlue, 2016). Companies have been established as a result of this. For example, the Bonneville Environmental Foundation (BEF) sells Water Restoration Certificates that fund a programme giving landowners the option to not use their water.  Each certificate represents 3,785 litres (1,000 gallons) of water. The scheme has received a positive reception, but for small businesses it is expensive – a small brewery that brews 124 pints (15.5 gallons) everyday would pay about $4,000 (£2,500) per year (Guardian, 2012).


The idea here is to provide Water Conservation Certification free of cost to businesses that donate excess food to redistribution organisations.

This will be done in the following way:

  1. Business (restaurant/hotel) owner enters the WCC process and gains access to the WCC app.
  2. The WCC app calculates water footprint of food waste based on weight and food type
  3. The business owner selects the preferred food redistributor in the region (e.g. FareShare in the UK, ExtraFood in California, ZeroPercent in Chicago).
  4. The food redistributor arrives to pick up.
  5. Business owner gets Food saver Points and Water Conservation Credits in account.
  6. On collection of 1000 gallon points, the owner claims the Level 1 of the certification.
  7. Owner views the impact through food donation on WCC app, e.g. places his food has been donated, total amount of food saved and water conserved in his region / globally.

The work flow of how the WCC operates is demonstrated in the following image.

Work flow of the WCC

Essentially, to build water credits, businesses need to receive water conservation points and donate surplus food in return.

The WCC is the first Water Conservation Certification provider that is free of cost for businesses.

A prototype of the business is illustrated in the business model canvas below.

WCC business model canvas. organized in priority for each area of the canvas: Dark Pink = Primary; Green / Light Pink = Secondary, Grey / Yellow = Tertiary; Light Purple = Additional.


  • Brings a new level of awareness that food waste is ‘bigger’ than food waste.
  • Feeds into charities that already redistribute food that would otherwise be wasted.
  • Agricultural businesses can benefit by receiving animal feed.
  • Reduces the need for future trading of abstractions and abstraction licences, as it provides a more efficient and environmentally friendly alternative to water trading.
  • Helps to reduce a historical over-allocation of water.
  • With drier summers and more frequent droughts stemming from climate change, it provides a form of adaptive management.
  • Provides a benchmark to businesses for reducing their food (and subsequently) water waste.
  • Offers businesses a new way to improve their corporate social responsibility.


GOV.UK, 2013: 

GrowingBlue, 2016:

Guardian, 2012:

PPIC, 2015:

What early, lightweight experiment might you try out in your own community to find out if the idea will meet your expectations?

Survey small local business to gauge their appetite for participation in such an idea.

What skills, input or guidance from the OpenIDEO community would be most helpful in building out or refining your idea?

• Design – website and branding • Financing advice • Connecting with existing charities/relevant companies etc.

Tell us about your work experience:

I currently lecture in geopolitics at the University of Groningen. I previously completed a post-doc in water governance and a post-doc in environmental risk management.

This idea emerged from

  • An Individual

How far along is your idea?

  • It’s just been created! It’s existed for 1 day - 1 month

How would you describe this idea to your grandmother?

A lot of water is needed to produce food. So when food it wasted, that water is also wasted too. This idea offers businesses a way to gain water conservation points for redistributing food to those in need. When a hotel or restaurant has unused food, we calculate the water footprint of that food then arrange for it to be redistributed. It’s like rewarding people for using their teabags twice.

How is your idea unique to the space?

This idea is different because it links food waste to water waste – emphasising the importance of food waste (via its wider impact). Also, this is the first Water Conservation Certification provider free of cost. The unique advantages that I have to implement this are: 1) relevant knowledge and experience (having completed post-doctoral research fellowships in water governance and environmental risk management); and 2) networking channels that we can tap into (via my work).

Who needs to play a role in your idea in order to make it successful?

-Government and environmental bodies -Local food redistributors (charities) -Hotel/restaurant business owners aware about water conservation and the risk future water scarcity can have on their business -Potential sponsors (e.g. government grant, or for profit organisations involved in water conservation, or water utilities, or companies with a stake in the risk associated with water and/or food scarcity)

How do you plan to measure the impact of your idea?

-Number of businesses partaking in the WCC process -Volume of water conserved according to our real-time tracker -Amount of food redistributed

What are your immediate next steps after the challenge?

-Build the relationships identified above (i.e. with potential customers, relevant government and environmental bodies and with sponsors). -Write marketing material/engage with marketing experts. -Begin application building.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Gracie Sanford

Hi Aine,

I think this idea is awesome! I've tried to find credible information on environmental practices and human trafficking violations of particular companies and it is extremely difficult to find. This app and certification would allow consumers to easily make an informed decision.

My question: how will you ensure your users/businesses will use your product? Is there a way to have government backing or some other legitimizer that would give your solution more weight?

I would love to follow along to see the progress of this product and contribute in any way needed.


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