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, while also improving the quality of wastewater that is currently discharged along the supply chain.
C&A’s commitment to zero discharge of hazardous chemicals (ZDHC) includes regular wastewater testing at our production units to validate the elimination of hazardous chemicals. Our cornerstone commitment to sourcing more sustainable cotton underpins our approach to water, as more sustainable cotton uses considerably less water than conventional cotton.
We are pleased to announce a continuing trend in water savings for 2017, estimating a 14% decrease in our total water footprint compared to 2016. These savings resulted from a 29% reduction in blue water consumption, a 15% reduction in green water consumption and a 13% in grey water consumption.
In 2017, we committed to global 2025 goals 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% (compared to 2015). Progress against these goals will be measured in 2018 for the first time.
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. In 2017, we completed our third C&A-specific, hybrid cradle-to-grave Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) to better understand our carbon and water footprints. Based on this assessment, we have developed a strategy to reduce our water use and – most importantly – to help our suppliers do the same.
The production of raw materials (61%) and intermediate textile goods (30%) comprises 91% of our total combined blue, grey and green water footprint.
Total water footprint, year-on-year comparison
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:
By measuring the water footprint and finding out where and when it lands, we can evaluate the impact of our water use and take steps to reduce that impact.
Total water footprint 2017 across our life cycle
Source: Aligned Incentives, 2017
Total water footprint across our life cycle, year-on-year comparison
Unit: million m3
The graph below shows a comparison of our water footprint between 2016 and 2017. 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). Our footprint also decreased as a result of our improved modelling of our consumers’ use habits. In total, these drivers resulted in a reduction of approximately 1.3 billion m3 across our value chain.
Our blue and green water footprints are dominated by cotton agriculture (61% and 85% of total respectively), whereas polyester production (35% of total) and textile manufacturing (34% of total) drive our grey water footprint.
Reducing our water footprint through more sustainable cotton
Our cornerstone commitment to source more sustainable cotton – including organic and Better Cotton – is also helping drive our water management goals. 77% of our combined blue and green water consumption is in cotton cultivation, measuring both direct and indirect water consumption. As with greenhouse gas emissions, sourcing more sustainable cotton is our best lever for reducing blue and green water consumption from agriculture, reducing them by 56% and 37% respectively as opposed to traditional cotton.
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
30% 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 occur during the dyeing, laundering, and finishing of fabric. C&A has worked closely with 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.