Today, around one billion people live in areas where access to fresh water is scarce; by 2025, two thirds of the world’s population may struggle to access enough clean water to meet their needs. The apparel industry uses a lot of water, from crop irrigation to wet processes in production, through to customer use. It takes the equivalent of three years’ worth of drinking water (2,700 litres) to make a cotton T-shirt [SOURCE: WWF]. We must work together to reduce this level of consumption quickly, while also improving the quality of wastewater that is currently discharged along the supply chain. Our cornerstone commitment to sourcing more sustainable cotton underpins our approach to water, as more sustainable cotton uses considerably less water than conventional cotton.
Using last year's model, we are pleased to announce significant water savings this year in blue and green water footprint compared to 2015, primarily driven by our more sustainable cotton and raw materials goals. In 2016, we've set new goals in Europe to continue to reduce water in the production of our raw materials by 30%, and to further reduce the water we use in stores, distribution centres and head offices by 10%.
The first step to reducing water consumption in our supply chain is to get a clear picture of our footprint – how much we’re using and where. We have used a hybrid Life Cycle Assessment to achieve this insight, and are now developing a strategy to reduce our use and – most importantly – that of our suppliers.
As with our GHG analysis, we have improved our data granularity and estimation method, which draws from the results of multiple Water Footprint Network studies commissioned by C&A Foundation. Furthermore, we also included a grey water estimate for 2016, providing us with a more complete understanding of our embedded water use impacts.
The production of raw materials (57%) and intermediate textile goods (29%) composes 86% of our total combined blue, grey and green water footprint.
The water footprint is an indicator of freshwater use that looks at both direct and indirect water use for any kind of productive activity. For example, growing cotton for the products consumed by an individual or group of individuals, or for the activities within a geographic area. It accounts for both water consumption and pollution over each phase of the production process and value chain, and includes three components:
By measuring the water footprint – and finding out where and when it lands – C&A can see the impact of its water use and take steps to reduce that impact.
The graph below shows a comparison of our water footprint between 2015 and 2016. The reductions are dominated by a decrease in inventory and the sourcing of more sustainable cotton. The numbers have been adjusted to take into consideration the full effect sourcing organic cotton has on our overall water footprint. With this in mind, our water footprint has decreased from 2.1 billion m3 to 1.5 billion m3.
Our blue and green water footprints are dominated by cotton agriculture (58% and 87% of total respectively), whereas polyester production (35% of total) and textile manufacturing (33% of total) drive our grey water footprint.
Our cornerstone commitment to source more sustainable cotton – including organic and Better Cotton – is also helping to drive our water management goals. 78% of our combined blue and green water consumption is in cotton growing, measuring both direct and indirect water consumption. As with GHG emissions, sourcing more sustainable cotton is our best lever for reducing blue and green water consumption from agriculture, reducing them by 46% and 31% respectively as opposed to traditional cotton.
C&A’s sourcing of more sustainable cotton reduced agricultural blue water by 46% relative to conventionally sourced cotton.
Our sourcing of more sustainable cotton reduced agricultural green water by 31% relative to conventionally sourced cotton.
And furthermore, C&A's sourcing of more sustainable cotton reduced agricultural grey water by 39% compared to conventionally sourced cotton.
We plan to use these baselines to track future reductions resulting from more sustainably sourced cotton going forward.
Almost a third (29%) of our total water footprint (blue, grey and green) is consumed when fibre is processed into fabric. The major impacts in this stage of production are in the dyeing, laundering, and finishing of fabric. C&A is also a close partner of the Better Mills Initiative (BMI), which is working to improve the textile wet processing industry in China. The BMI addresses a wide range of issues at mills, including water and energy consumption, wastewater and chemicals use. Since the project began in 2013, the 38 mills that are part of the BMI’s programme have saved a total of 6.3 million tons of water and reduced their impact across the board.
12% of water used is in the consumer laundering of garments. In Europe, our 2016 denim range included products that were made out of organic cotton, recycled denim, or made with an average use of 65% less water in the finishing process. The C&A website backed this up by advising customers to preserve the fit of their favourite jeans by washing them less often – a change that also saves water and significantly reduces GHG emissions.
UN Sustainable Development Goals
In 2017, we will continue to align our approach to water management with the UN Sustainable Development Goal of Clean Water and Sanitation. We will bring together our ongoing work with Water Footprint Network with Aligned Incentives to further understand our impacts on water consumption and on chemical use on surface water in cotton agriculture and garment manufacture.