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Water and Waste Management: the case of the textile industry

During World Water Week STWI organized a seminar on “Water and Waste Management: the case of the textile industry.” We posed a few questions to Laila Petri, Corporate Relations at WWF, and Lisa Hook, Water and Women at GAP Inc., about World Water Week, the seminar and the future of the textile industry.

What are your main take outs from World Water Week?

Lisa: World Water Week is an important platform for exchanging information on the latest ideas, projects, and research that address the world’s pressing water challenges. It is particularly relevant to an apparel retail company like Gap Inc. because World Water Week brings together key stakeholders from a variety of perspectives and backgrounds – civil society, government, international organizations, and the private sector.

Lisa-Hook

When it comes to sustainability, we work with our supplier partners, other brands, non-government organizations and other stakeholders to address many of the systemic challenges facing sustainability in textile production. We had a Showcase, for example, talking about our partnership with USAID – the Women + Water Alliance. An alliance which aims to improve and sustain the health and well-being of women and communities touched by the apparel industry.

Laila: During World Water Week we had a three-part whole day seminar with STWI. I believe it was a great seminar and a very good discussion addressing waste water management in the textile industry.

In the first part, we talked about the challenges on a technical level on site and the available solutions.  We listened to a Wastewater Management case from the Egyptian Textile Industry, a research on the textile’s grey water footprint and a case on water reuse in Chinese factories. The resounding part was that yes, there are solutions available to these challenges. We surveyed the people in the audience afterwards and asked them if this was enough. 50% said “yes” and 50% said “no”.

In the second session we discussed that if site level technical expertise was not enough, what next? We talked about shared platforms – ZDHC, SAC, heard from CDP and two brands – Filippa K and Nike. Essentially, we are all collaborating now but what do we need to do to optimize this and what are going to be the game changers? We came up with ways to work with the SDGs and at the end of that session 75% of the audience were optimistic about working with waste water in textiles.

laila

The third session was really the big picture. We talked about global business models, governments, the financial flows required to solve this problem. Out of this discussion came really some good insights about the future and where the sector was going. At the end of the session everyone in the audience was optimistic that we will solve the problems in the textile industry.

What do you believe the challenges are when it comes to changing the mindset of actors in the textile industry?

Laila: One of the challenges we face in the textile industry is the short-term thinking. Even if you present a site or a business owner with a case of: “If you do this you will save money, time and effort”; it does not matter if the payoff is a two-year window because they are thinking of the next 2-3 order runs, when they are going to market next. So, there is a whole systematic question that needs to be asked about the cycles and how we can become more long-term oriented in our thinking.

What does a sustainable future in the textile industry look like?

Lisa: The future of sustainability in the textile industry relies on collaboration among multiple stakeholders to achieve lasting improvements. These include collaborations to advance standards, adoption of new technologies, and cross-sector partnerships.

Laila: We need to take care of limited resources in the textile industry. A change does need to happen, it is non-negotiable! The question is how to reconcile this change with the development needs of countries where production is happening. Countries in Africa are picking up textile production, Bangladesh too. These countries have their own development agenda and their own development rights. Therefore, we need to balance this need of much more sustainable way of working with their development needs.

Written by Ekaterina Larsson, Communications Manager, STWI