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 across its supply chain, from crop irrigation to wet processes in production, through to customer use. For instance, a simple cotton T-shirt requires the equivalent of three years’ worth of drinking water (2,700 litres) to manufacture and use [SOURCE: WWF]. In a world of shrinking natural resources, we must work together to reduce this level of consumption quickly. Our cornerstone commitment to sourcing more sustainable cotton underpins our approach to water, as more sustainable cotton uses considerably less water than conventional cotton.
How we define our 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 water consumption and pollution over each phase of the production process and value chain, and includes three components:
Similar to previous years, we have used hybrid LCA to assess our water footprint across our value chain. The analysis demonstrates that the largest water consumption phase is the production of raw materials (65%), followed by intermediate textile goods (29%). Together, they make up 94% of our total combined blue, grey, and green water footprint.
Total water footprint, year-on-year comparison
Source: Aligned Incentives, 2018
Our performance in reducing our water footprint
In 2018, we observed a similar increase from 2017 in our absolute water footprint as our GHG emissions, driven primarily by sales increase. In spite of this absolute increase, our estimated retail water footprint decreased by 13% since 2012, thus overachieving our goal of 10% reduction.
We have also achieved an absolute reduction of 8% in our blue water consumption in raw material extraction compared with 2016, or roughly 28 million cubic metres (m3).
The graph below shows a comparison of our water footprint between 2016 and 2018. This reduction is strongly influenced by a reduction in sourced materials (inventory weight decreased despite an increase in sold items) and the sourcing of more sustainable materials, (e.g., cotton and viscose).
Total 2018 water footprint across our life cycle
Source: Aligned Incentives, 2018
Total water footprint across our life cycle, year-on-year comparison
Reducing our water footprint through more sustainable cotton
Our cornerstone commitment to source more sustainable cotton – including organic and Better Cotton – has resulted in significant reductions in our water consumption. Sourcing more sustainable cotton has resulted in the reduction of our water footprint by 37% when compared with conventional cotton, or 1 billion m3.
Blue water footprint of C&A’s cotton mix, compared to conventional cotton
Green water footprint of C&A’s cotton mix, compared to conventional cotton
Grey water footprint of C&A’s cotton mix, compared to conventional cotton
Reducing our water footprint through more efficient production
29% of our water footprint is from the production of fabrics, primarily in the dyeing and finishing stages. These stages of production are addressed in our SCM programme where there is a strong focus on chemical use and wastewater treatment.
Throughout 2019, we will build upon our learnings with the Better Mill Initiative in China and our previous work with the Partnership for Cleaner Textiles (PaCT) programme in Bangladesh to support our suppliers in their continual improvement of water efficiency. We will also leverage our rollout of the Higg 3.0 Facility Environment Module to understand supplier performance from primary data to create new benchmarks for improvement.
In addition, we will focus on continually increasing our more sustainable raw material shares and working closely with Fashion for Good to identify innovations in processing and materials that may lead to water reductions.