Image courtesy of Lindex, one of the brands working with STWI.

How do we tackle the water issue?

The fashion industry must become 40% more water efficient by 2020 in order not to increase its negative water impact. Rami Abdel Rahman, Global Manager at Sweden Textile Water Initiative, lists the most important factors to enable change.

“The textile industry accounts for USD 400 billion in global exports annually as of 2014, and 8 percent of world trade in manufactured goods. The industry is expected to grow by about USD 100 billion a year, reaching the trillion mark by 2020. This means that the industry must become 40% more water efficient by 2020 in order not to increase its negative water impact as the market growth, let alone address it.

In many production countries in Asia, the textile industry is the fourth largest industrial water user. Furthermore, the World Bank estimates that 20 per cent of industrial freshwater pollution is caused by the textile industry, positioning it in many production countries as the single largest industrial water polluter.

In response to this development, international fashion brands have been organizing themselves to develop theoretical frameworks, codes, standards, tools as basis for multi-stakeholder, business-to-business, and self-perpetuating interventions to address immediate and future water risk. But for a variety of reasons, change on the ground has not been scalable beyond the results of pilot projects.

A key barrier to scalable international development is the lack of continuity and consistency. There is no shortage of pilots, good ideas or good will, but there’s definitely a massive shortage of pilots that end up driving change through replication and scale-up. To break free from silo thinking, visionary champions must partner together, and put in consistent personal efforts to create scalable model pilots and pursue long-term sustainable change.

Swedish fashion companies have understood that there is an immediate need for action to address water risk. Since 2010, 30 major Swedish brands have been working collaboratively with the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), in order to build capacities on sustainable water use within brands, and through the first tiers of their supply chain. The program, “Sweden Textile Water Initiative”, received catalytic support from the Swedish government. Today it serves a scalable model, transforming the “sustainability” space to offer affordable, scalable, result-oriented, on-site support saving water for millions of people around the world. In 2017, the program is working with more than 200 factories in 5 countries, with plans to reach hundreds and thousands of facilities in all production areas with water risk. The program has the ambition to become one of the most successful private sector initiatives delivering on the Sustainable Development Goals for water, responsible consumption and production as well as innovative partnerships.

The success model of the STWI remains focused on humans – the change makers. Our future success depends on continuing to empower champions, who believe in a common vision, who trust each other, optimizing the use of water resources, in financially measurable terms. We will continue to promote this collaboration, and celebrate its success.”

/Rami Abdel Rahman

Visit STWI here.

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