The Business of Water
The availability and cost of clean water is playing an increasingly pivotal role in economics, social justice, and security. As population and consumption levels around the world continue to grow, access to sufficient clean water is declining—especially for the poorest among us. With approximately 12-24 gallons of water required for each pound of textile product (100-200 L/kg), the textile industry is one of the largest consumers of fresh water. Additionally, high temperatures, toxic chemicals, and heavy metals make textile mill effluent one of the largest sources of water pollution. Recently, the textile industry has realized the benefit of incorporating cleaner and more efficient technologies into its manufacturing operations, and several industry leaders have formed alliances to further these goals.
The Sustainable Water Group
Leading apparel manufacturers like Levi-Strauss, Nike, and Gap Inc. understand that it is an intelligent business decision to take responsibility of all the costs of doing business, including environmental and social impacts. In the mid-1990’s, their commitment to corporate responsibility prompted them to join the Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) Sustainable Water Group in forming global water quality guidelines to help them achieve water stewardship goals. Gap Inc.’s involvement in the Sustainable Water Group helped launch its Water Quality Program in 2004, one of the first of its kind in the apparel industry. Using the water quality guidelines developed by the group, Gap Inc. expanded the program over five years, eventually requiring all of its denim laundries to adhere to these standards, although they are no longer an active part of the Sustainable Water Group. Launched in 2011, the new Gap brand 1969 Premium Jeans is the first to carry messaging that all wastewater from its jean laundering facilities is guaranteed to be safe and clean before it is released.
Treatment of wastewater remains one of the textile industry’s greatest challenges. Dyes and pigments, cleaning products, heavy metals, high temperature and alkalinity are common characteristics of textile process wastewater and can impact human and ecosystem health without effective treatment. To help meet this challenge, C*Insight, Inc. has designed and developed an innovative online data management tool, H2O*Insight, that aims to revolutionize the way the textile industry collect, manage and analyze the broad range of relevant water use and wastewater discharge data across their global supply chains. This powerful system is quick to implement, simple to use, and cost efficient to operate--making it a leading choice among top brands and retailers in their efforts to reduce their water footprint and become responsible environmental guardians.
Nike has already earned accolades from environmental NGOs and business analysts alike for using H2O*Insight to track the water quality, quantity, and efficiency of more than 500 suppliers worldwide, as well as impacting the water quality of more than 50 billion gallons of water annually. With H2O*Insight Nike is able to monitor volumes of both manufacturing and domestic water discharge. They are able to track facility compliance with local/national wastewater parameters and limits as well as facility observance of brand recommendations. The H2O*Insight tool allows Nike to ensure that discharge permits are current, that discharge restrictions are respected, and that effluent treatment centers are utilizing recognized methods of waste management. Just as important as the technology itself, C*Insight has a dedicated water support team which serves as a link between brand and facilities, providing a means of consistent and prompt communication as data is supplied. With the data collected in H2O*Insight and analyzed by the C*Insight water support team, brands are able to make informed assessments and knowledgeable decisions about their ultimate environmental stewardship.
Responsible Water (and Energy) Use
Using water responsibly is not just the right choice for environmental and social reasons; it is also a wise economic decision. According to the UN World Water Development Report, "managing water as an economic good is an important way of achieving efficient and equitable use, and of encouraging conservation and protection of water resources." Businesses that adopt both water conservation measures and water quality guidelines are not only being socially and environmentally responsible, they are ensuring that clean water remains available for future use. NRDC's Clean By Design program has outlined a series of best management practices that can quickly put your business on the path towards responsible water and energy use. The costs associated with implementing the most basic technologies can typically be recouped in less than a month, and all best management practices pay themselves back within a year. By encouraging textile mills to adopt these simple, easily implemented principles, leading brands and retailers can steer the textile industry a brand new way of doing business--one that involves a much smaller global water footprint and a much larger positive global impact.
Are you ready to make water conservation goals and water quality guidelines part of your business?
You may also be interested in our whitepaper "FastFacts: Water." FastFacts: Water is a guide of resources including:
- Industry standards
- Working groups and forums
- Tools to manage water usage and quality
- Great resources
- Key facts and statistics about water