Water risks and opportunities facing apparel and textile clusters

Posted on November, 29 2022

New WWF and Open Supply Hub report details growing water risks to world's major apparel and textile clusters
The Apparel and Textiles industry was founded on water and remains intimately connected to this key resource. The clusters that have formed in the industry are heavily influenced by river systems, wetlands and deltas where some of the world’s largest cities have emerged.
While water has fuelled the growth and success of the industry, it also is an issue which, due to human activities, now poses a risk to these same clusters. 
Our new report with Open Supply Hub, supported by H&M Group – Avant Garde: Water risks and opportunities facing the apparel and textile clusters – unpacks how water risk affects the largest clusters in the industry. It is the second in a special WWF series on the apparel and textile sector, following Part I (Eau Courant: Water stewardship in Apparel & Textiles), which outlined the key issues facing the industry.
By grouping sites, not only can we begin to better understand the shared physical water risks facing sites (and even co-located sites in other sectors, such as the Electronics industry), but we can also begin to better understand the opportunities to jointly de-risk key production clusters. 
Several key messages emerge from this report:
  • Much of the industry is concentrated in a few large clusters and many of these large clusters are highly exposed to physical water risks. Some clusters are particularly dense (e.g., Dhaka) ensuring they are at greater risk but also affording them a greater opportunity to collaborate.
  • While the industry often focuses on water scarcity and efficiency, broadly speaking, flood risks and water quality are the key risks for the industry to prioritize  (both in terms of severity and prevalence). As climate instability increases, the industry must equip suppliers to enhance their resilience to avoid supply chain disruptions that are likely to emerge - as evidenced by recent flooding in India and Pakistan.
  • Given the dual challenges of flood risk and water quality risk, focusing on protecting, managing and restoring wetlands offers a logical pathway for the industry. Not only do healthy wetlands help to mitigate floods, but they also purify water and can even help to tackle water scarcity, while enhancing degraded ecosystems. Enhancing the health of wetlands represents a multi-pronged way to address the array of risks facing sites across most clusters.
  • There are considerable opportunities to share learnings between sites and clusters around the world. This also extends to sharing challenges and solutions with other, co-located sectors such as the ICT sector and other sectors, which can be explored via the Open Supply Hub
Understanding water risks is critical throughout the value chain.
While this work focused on Tiers 1-3 for the most part, understanding water risk facing Tier 4 sourcing regions (e.g., raw material clusters, such as cotton which was briefly highlighted in this report) is important, as is understanding how stores and customers can also be impacted by water risks. After all, shoppers who have had their homes flooded are not focused on next season's clothing trends!
Moreover, thinking about the exposure of customers also enables brands to empower their customers to take action through innovative product, service, and marketing & awareness efforts.  
Water is local and responding to its challenges will vary from place to place, and company to company. However, as we explore the shared water challenges we face in common basins, we have the opportunity to enhance collaboration and work together to face these challenges. Many hands make for light work, and water will indeed require many hands. 
With transparent data, brave brand leaders, supportive governments and passionate civil society organizations, we have many of the building blocks required to not only mitigate water risks for the apparel and textiles industry but for nature and communities as well.
Stay tuned for more in Part III, the third, and final, report in this series, which will further outline how WWF is taking action and how we are working to mobilize others to scale solutions.
Water Risk facing cotton producers
© WWF Water Risk Filter
Avant Garde: Water risks and opportunities facing the apparel and textile clusters (WWF & OS Hub)
© WWF Water Risk Filter