Transforming the textile sector's approach to water

Posted on August, 23 2019

WWF has been driving the adoption and implementation of Water Stewardship in the textile sector since 2011. With the support of international brands and local partners, WWF has established water stewardship projects in several countries, including China, India, Vietnam and Turkey. The brochures on this page will help other companies and countries to learn from these flagship projects.
China - Taihu Lake Basin:
The textile sector is key to China’s economy with a total economic volume of about US$1 trillion. China’s textile exports comprise 25 percent of the country’s total exports and are valued at US$29 billion. Today, the country’s textile industry withdraws over 3 trillion liters of water, accounting for 8 percent of the total industrial water withdrawal and making textiles the fourth largest industrial water user.

Operating since 2011, this project was the first Water Stewardship project implemented by WWF. The Taihu Basin is home to a significant portion of China’s manufacturing, including 37 percent of textile production, and it comprises more than 50 national and provincial level industrial parks, 14 Fortune 500 companies, and hundreds of international and domestic brands with nearly 10,000 textile printing and dyeing facilities.

This project aims to improve the conditions of the river basin by transforming the industrial sector. While initial efforts have focused on the textile sector, the project’s vision is broader and will expand to include additional sectors: “By 2030, prioritized sectors are working collectively to drive improved freshwater ecosystems and better water governance in key basins for a healthy/living Yangtze, and introduce best practice in WWF priority basins.”
India - Noyyal and Bavani Basin:
WWF’s work in the Noyyal-Bhavani basin was launched in 2018 with a desire to take an integrated a landscape approach to basin water stewardship efforts.

The Noyyal and Bhavani sub-basins are critical for the water security of the region and home to unique wildlife in the still relatively pristine upper water source areas. As the rivers continue downstream, they enable much of the agricultural and industrial economy of the region.

The textile and garment industry has long been a crucial sector to the economy and is a major factor in the livelihoods of people in the basin. The textile industry clusters are predominantly located in the middle Noyyal region, in the cities of Coimbatore and Tiruppur. According to recent data, approximately 29,000 units are involved in various stages of textile production in the middle Noyyal region.

The water stewardship project in the Noyyal Bhavani Basin has the ambition was to address shared basin challenges and has a strong foundation of science-based actions, test pilots to help inform policy making in the region and clear key performance indicators, which will measure the impact on the landscape.
Turkey - Büyük Menderes Basin:
The textile and leather industries are the leading industrial sectors in the Büyük Menderes basin, especially in the upper basin near Denizli and Uşak. Agriculture (including cotton production) is comparatively dominant in Aydın, which is located further downstream.

The basin holds 40 percent of the national leather production, while Denizli holds 60 percent of all textile exports of Turkey and Aydın province contains 14 percent of the national cotton production. The river delta has been recognized as an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBA) for breeding and wintering water birds.

The vision of the project is ambitious: “Through the implementation of Water Stewardship, this programme aims to serve as a model in the conservation and sustainable use of water resources apt to be scaled up to other basins in Turkey”.
Vietnam – Great Mekong Delta:
This project covers two interconnected areas, the Mekong and Dong Nai deltas, which have a total area of 10,000km2. The region, where 62 percent of textile and apparel factories are located, makes up more than 60 percent of the country’s GDP.

The Mekong Delta’s main challenges are upstream hydropower dam development, sand mining, and overexploitation of groundwater. These activities are causing the delta to sink and shrink through land subsidence and erosion.

The project’s vision is to transform the textile sector in Vietnam by engaging sectoral and environmental governance in order to bring social, economic and conservation benefits to the country and the entire Mekong region. This vision will be achieved by making textile businesses more active participants in Mekong River resource planning and management, sustainable energy planning and creating an opportunity for these businesses to discuss collective action to achieve sustainable investment and development in the textile sector.

The creation of such dialogue platforms is expected to improve overall governance, indirectly helping to solve specific challenges of the basin.

Pakistan - Indus River basin
The economy of Pakistan is linked to the success of the cotton and textile sectors. This is because, Pakistan being the 4th largest producer of cotton with the third largest spinning capacity in Asia, contributes 5% to the global spinning capacity and the textile sector contributes 8.5% to the GDP of Pakistan. Furthermore, the cotton and textile sectors dominate exports, accounting for 55% of export value. At present the industry boasts 1,221 ginning units, 442 spinning units, 124 large spinning units and 425 small units which produce textile.

The cotton and textile sector is considered highly water intensive as water is an important input in cultivation of cotton and textile production processes. These sectors are heavily reliant upon the Indus River Basin for water, which puts tremendous amount of pressure on the river basin. Water wastage is a common practice in these sectors. Because of the easy availability and accessibility of water, industries do not make conscious water consumption choices. On average, about 737 billion gallons of water are withdrawn from the Indus River annually to grow cotton. For textile, the average total process water abstracted per tonne of finished textile is 163 m3/t.

Water consumption practices of these sectors need to be managed sustainably for long term management of this resource
Worker at Vietnam textile factory
A waste water treatment plant
© Sun Xiaodong
Buyuk Menderes Basin
© WWF-Turkey