Water The opportunity to reduce our impact

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:

  • The blue water footprint is the amount of fresh surface or groundwater used to grow a crop or produce goods or services. It is the amount of water evaporated, incorporated into the product or returned to a different location or in a different time period from where it was withdrawn. 
  • The green water footprint is the total rainfall or soil moisture used to grow plants. It is relevant for products that include agricultural crops, and wood and other forestry inputs, where it refers to the quantity of water either through plant evapotranspiration incorporated into the harvested crop, or both. 
  • The grey water footprint is a measure of pollution. It is expressed as the volume of water required to assimilate the pollutant load to meet ambient water quality standards. The pollutant that requires the largest assimilation volume is referred to as the critical pollutant and is used to calculate the grey water footprint. If there are both surface and groundwater discharges, the grey water footprint for each discharge is calculated separately. 

How we measure our water footprint

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

0 12,000 6,000 8,000 10,000 2,000 4,000 millions of m 3 Green Water Grey Water Blue Water 2017 2018 2016 Years Source: Aligned Incentives, 2018 481 1,319 8,566 10,366 393 1,416 7,811 9,350 444 1,324 9,290 11,058 10% reduction 18% increase

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

Green Water Grey Water Blue Water 8,000 7,000 6,000 5,000 4,000 3,000 2,000 1,000 0 Design Raw materials Material processing Productmanufacturing Transportation Retail operations Consumer use 2017 2018 2017 2018 2017 2018 2017 2018 2017 2018 2017 2018 2017 2018 millions of m 3 Stages of Life Cycle (year on year) Source: Aligned Incentives, 2019

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

0 700 400 500 600 200 100 300 millions of m 3 Better Cotton Conventional Cotton Organic Cotton Global Average for Conventional Cotton C&A Cotton Mix Source: Aligned Incentives, 2018 658 83 221 22 50% reduction

Green water footprint of C&A’s cotton mix, compared to conventional cotton

2,000 800 1,000 1,200 1,400 1,600 1,800 400 200 0 600 millions of m 3 Better Cotton Conventional Cotton Organic Cotton Global Average for Conventional Cotton C&A Cotton Mix Source: Aligned Incentives, 2018 1.715 232 659 294 31% reduction

Grey water footprint of C&A’s cotton mix, compared to conventional cotton

400 200 250 300 350 100 50 0 150 millions of m 3 Better Cotton Conventional Cotton Organic Cotton Global Average for Conventional Cotton C&A Cotton Mix Source: Aligned Incentives, 2018 338 43 135 20 41% reduction

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.

Where next?

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.