Review of methods to assess sustainability of industrial water use

Joeri Willet*, Koen Wetser, Jan Vreeburg, Huub H.M. Rijnaarts

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

27 Citations (Scopus)


The projected increase of industrial water demands raises the need to assess the environmental sustainability of industrial water use. Assessment methods need to use Sustainable Systems Indicators (SSIs) which relate resource use to the carrying capacity of the local environment. SSIs for water use evaluate whether water use exceeds the natural water renewal (quantity) and whether emissions remain within the assimilation capacity of ecosystems (quality). We systematically reviewed the scientific literature to show which methods are used to assess industrial water use, and of these, which methods incorporate SSIs. In total, 82 assessment methods were identified in 340 papers. The methods were assigned to five categories: Key Performance Indicators, Composite Indices, Environmental Accounting, Material and Energy Flow Analysis, and Life Cycle Analysis. In 26% of the reviewed papers, the assessment methods used SSIs. The number of papers incorporating SSIs is growing at a slower rate than the overall number of papers in the area of sustainability assessments of industrial water use. Considering the expected growth in industrial water use this poses a risk to sustainable water use. The best performing category in terms of incorporating SSIs is Material and Energy Flow Analysis (42% of papers). Papers assessing several industrial sectors in the same study incorporate SSIs more frequently (68%) than research focused on a single industry or process (20%). We discuss examples from the reviewed papers which successfully incorporate SSIs, in order to: (1) identify the elements needed to create SSIs for industrial water use, (2) aid researchers and practitioners in selecting methods which incorporate SSIs, and (3) provide a starting point for future methodological development incorporating SSIs.

Original languageEnglish
Article number100110
JournalWater Resources and Industry
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2019


  • Environmental assessment methods
  • Environmental sustainability
  • Industrial water use
  • System sustainability


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