Companies such as Coca Cola and organisations including WWF are among the first members of the Water Footprint Network, which was officially launched on Tuesday.

The network aims to develop and apply the footprinting concept – which measures how much water is used to produce a product from the raw ingredients to reaching the consumer – to make water use more sustainable around the globe.

Launching the partnership at the Water Footprint Summit 2008, in London, Professor Hoekstra, scientific director of the network, said: “This is very much an open network so I would like to invite all organisations that are very much serious about water footprinting and are willing to engage in this enterprise of more sustainable water use.”

The founding partners of the network include the International Finance Corporation, the UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education and the University of Twente.

Among the first organisations to sign up are Nestlé Ltd, SABMiller and Unilever Plc.

Speaking at the summit, Claus Conzelmann, global head of safety, health and environment for Nestlé, said: “We believe at Nestlé that the other ‘inconvenient truth’ is about global drying – that is, water scarcity.”

A number of major global companies told the summit they will use water footprinting to understand and reduce their water use.

But Ian Walsh, global head of environment at Cadbury Schweppes, told the conference that although his firm supports the concept of footprinting, they want it to be clear to customers how and where that water is used.

He said a lot of Cadbury’s ingredients are agricultural products, such as cocoa beans grown in Ghana, which need a lot of water to grow but he said the trade is vital to support the nation’s economy.

“A number on a bit of paper is meaningless,” he added. “For ourselves, that’s the most contentious issue. It’s the most difficult one to answer.”

Kate Martin

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