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Fashion companies are slow to recognize the risks of water pollution

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CDP: fashion companies are slow to recognize the risks of water pollution
(Photo Credit: Priscilla Du Preez, Unsplash)

CDP today released a new report analyzing water data from 62 companies involved in the fashion, clothing, footwear and home textiles industry. Only seven companies have demonstrated awareness of water pollution across their entire value chain.

Nested risks, untapped opportunities have pulled data from industry brands, manufacturers and retailers that was disclosed through the 2019 CDP Water Safety Questionnaire. Water pollution poses huge risks for these companies, The report concluded. Better water management is also better for businesses: CDP found that companies reported more than $ 180 million in business opportunities related to reducing water pollution.

The report is an inventory that aims to inform the market and stimulate behavior change in companies in the apparel and textile sector, in addition to the financial institutions that provide capital to these companies, says Cate Lamb, Director world of water. security for CDP.

Lamb shared key insights from the new report for sustainability leaders in the fashion and textile industry:

What are the main risks that water pollution represents for clothing companies?

Pollution issues arise throughout the garment value chain, from agrochemical pollution from growing cotton, livestock (for leather), oil extraction (for polyester) and other materials , to the release of chemicals during textile manufacturing, to detergents and plastic microfibers released when clothes are washed.

These impacts manifest themselves in material, regulatory, reputational and litigation risks for the companies and the financial institutions that feed them.

Regulatory risks include tougher water discharge regulations and product bans, such as a Europe-wide ban on single-use plastic with companies receiving fines, forced factory closures or even penalties. industries stalled as policymakers get more serious about the issue.

Reputational risks are an interesting issue, for example, when a brand is linked to water pollution, causing negative reactions in the local community and causing environmentally conscious consumers to spend their money elsewhere. The Greenpeace Dirty Laundry campaign continues to work today.

What has CDP learned about making companies aware of these risks?

Our analysis indicated that the apparel industry has a terribly low level of awareness on this issue, with little risk identifying beyond the manufacturing stages of their value chain.

Only five of the 62 reporting companies reported significant risks associated with the production of raw materials, and no company considers pollution in the use and disposal phases of products to be a significant risk to their business. Looking at the research, we believe there are significant risks that businesses are ignoring.

Regarding the global problem of microplastics, which harm aquatic life and can even accumulate in human body tissues, only one company in the sample actually mentioned microplastics or microfibers in their response to the CDP questionnaire. 2019 on water safety: H&M reported that it encourages consumers to use guppy bags when washing clothes to reduce the release of microfibers.

The fact that no other clothing company mentions this issue is shocking considering a study in the journal Nature showed that washing synthetic fabrics accounts for more than 35% of all microplastics released into the environment worldwide.

Do you see effective corporate initiatives or efforts to tackle water pollution?

Some companies are starting to take action on this issue, but it’s too few and far between. Based on CDP data, only seven companies in our analysis (11%) recognized water pollution as a problem along the value chain, a milestone.

In terms of practical action, a good example is H&M. The company reports that it is piloting a technology called Colorifix, an industrial-scale organic dye alternative that uses no hazardous chemicals and reduces water use by up to 90%. They also require their suppliers to consistently report water performance via the Higg index, make regular site visits, and incentivize high performance with more orders. In addition, H&M allows consumers to return clothing and recycle it, reducing impacts on the clothing life cycle.

Another good example is that Gap Inc. commits to sourcing 100% organic, recycled and Better Cotton Initiative cotton and begins sourcing more recycled polyester and nylon fibers.

The Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals initiative is an exciting campaign that more and more apparel and textile companies are joining, including Burberry, Adidas and Puma.

We know what the problems are. Technologies and other solutions exist to solve it. What seems to be lacking in many is the will to act. This must change if we are to create resilient communities, habitats and businesses.

Where do you see clothing brands heading on this problem?

The direction of movement is undoubtedly towards a more sustainable and circular future for the sector. Recently, I was one of the signatories of an open letter signed by major fashion brands and environmental NGOs, calling on the fashion industry to embrace sustainability and environmental resilience in the recovery of covid-19. .

The economy is changing and clothing companies must be part of it. Consumers, regulators, civil society and investors are all aware of the problem, so the demand for change will only grow.

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