How the Fashion Industry Can Reduce its Water Footprint

Editorial TeamEditorial Team
June 14th, 2021
5:23 PM

Although the fashion industry has taken measures to address carbon emissions, here's what it needs to do to make its practices more sustainable and less wasteful of water.

The world is currently facing an unprecedented and urgent environmental crisis, with 90% of the world's natural disasters being water-related. In 2019, the World Economic Forum stated in its 14th edition of the annual Global Risks Report that we only have 12 years to stay under 1.5°C If temperatures continue to rise, there'll be a higher risk of water scarcity, pollution, droughts, disruption of freshwater systems, and more. Although the fashion industry has taken steps to focus on reducing carbon emissions, overall it continues to neglect the impact on water pollution at the expense of the environment. Moreover, water consumption isn't the only pressing issue when it comes to manufacturing clothing. Polluting waterways is also a major point of concern. 20% of global wastewater is caused by the dyeing and finishing process in the fashion industry, which prevents people from getting access to waterways. Not to mention that certain chemicals used in dyeing are problematic. What Can the Industry Do About it?  [Fashion brands] and companies need to set specific targets to improve how they manage their water use. This includes correct monitoring and disclosing the results of their efforts with transparency, rendering it easy to compare with others. In order to do their part in achieving their sustainability goals, brands and retailers must focus specifically on improving water quality, water-use efficiency, and the protection of water-related ecosystems. Let's examine how fashion brands can minimize their water footprint:  Choosing Organic Cotton Conventional cotton cultivation requires a vast amount of water. According to the Institute of Water report, it can take up to 2,720 liters of water to produce one t-shirt. Fashion brands need to increase their use of organic cotton, as it requires 91% less "blue" such as freshwater lakes and rivers, as opposed to non-organic. According to a study carried out by Textile Exchange in 2017, if cotton is grown organically and in the correct places, it can actually use a very small amount of water and has a relatively low footprint. Responsible Sourcing  It's up to brands to do their research and know where and how the textiles they're using are made. For example, natural fibers such as silk and cellulose consume a lot of water but may be produced in a wetter region. It's crucial for businesses to learn about how their materials are produced, and the more efficient they can be in making informed decisions its sustainability plans. A good place to start is when a company gives insight and visibility into its supply chain, showing that it cares about its customer's opinions as well as influencing other brands to do the same.  Invest in Waterless Denim  Traditionally, the [denim] industry depends heavily on the use of water. With cotton being the main component of denim, it requires fertilizers, pesticides, and a vast amount of water for its cultivation. Between dyeing, washing, and rinsing, a dangerously high level of pollutants is released into the air. On average, it takes about 396 gallons of water to produce a single pair of jeans.  Therefore, textile companies must take a stance to innovate more responsible methods and combat the issue. With the constant demand for denim showing no signs of slowing down, brands have a moral obligation to source from companies like Tejidos Royo that has completely transformed how denim is produced. This Spanish manufacturer has managed to modify the conventional indigo dyeing process, omitting the use of water completely in a reduced space, which is a huge advancement for sustainability.  Avoid Polyester Polyester is an oil-based plastic that doesn't biodegrade like plant-based fibers. When polyester garments are washed, fibers are shed and enter waterways and oceans as microplastic fibers. Polyester can also significantly contribute to water pollution with its toxic chemicals such as cobalt, sodium bromide, and antimony oxide.  Brands should opt for natural fibers that biodegrade when discarded such as banana, apple, or pineapple. Be Wary of Leather Processing and finishing leather has a high water impact, with its chemicals used in tanneries causing a huge concern for water pollution. To create leather, it has to be tanned with a harzardous form of chromium so it doesn't rot. When the toxic water is disposd of, it can cause a lot of damage to the aquatic ecosystems, as well as negatively affecting the health of the workers that are exposed to it in the factories.  A sustainable alternative to chemical tanning would be vegetable tanning, which uses naturally derived plant chemicals to purify the hide. However, it's not a very common practice as it's quite expensive and also requires a highly specialized skill set.