When we consider the amount of waste produced by the fashion industry, the immediate images we conjure likely include heaps of clothing in landfills or mountains of packaging. And solid waste is a huge problem — but it's not the only concern. Water waste is also a significant piece of any serious conversation about fashion and sustainability.
It's this backdrop that makes Gap Inc.'s announcement that it plans to conserve 10 billion liters of water by the end of 2020 so significant. That figure, which amounts to the daily drinking water needs of five billion people, is one Gap Inc. plans to hit by adapting the way it does business at mills, factories and laundries.
"Leveraging the power of product innovation and improved manufacturing practices, we can help ensure that our customers not only look great in their favorite jeans and T-shirts, but also feel good about how their purchases are helping to make a positive impact for communities and helping to tackle global water scarcity," executive vice president of global sourcing Christophe Roussel said in a release. "Water is critical to nearly all aspects of our business, and we recognize the responsibility and the opportunity we have to reduce the amount of water used to create our products."
To that end, Gap Inc. has implemented a mill sustainability program, monitors wastewater quality at its denim laundries, pioneered a program called Washwell, which reduces the water used in denim washing by 20 percent and partnered with the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Sustainable Apparel Coalition. In addition, the corporation is working to make clean water more accessible for the communities that produce its clothing, by integrating hygiene, sanitation and water education into its worker programming.
Besides focusing on denim production and human rights, Gap Inc. is also zeroing in on cotton, which is an extremely water-intensive crop. By working with the Better Cotton Initiative, a non-profit aimed at reducing the environmental footprint of cotton, Gap Inc. has moved closer to its goal of using "100 percent... cotton from more sustainable sources by 2021," according to a release.
While Gap Inc. has been criticized in the past due to reports of child labor and abusive factory conditions that came out in the late aughts, its water initiatives have the capacity to impact the environment on a scale that is hard to ignore. Add to that the fact that Gap Inc.-owned brand Athleta recently joined ethical fashion heavy hitters like Patagonia and Eileen Fisher in becoming B Corp certified, and you have a compelling case that Gap Inc. is making real strides toward greater sustainability and more ethical production practices.
"It's not only the right thing for people and the planet, it's also crucial for our business growth," senior vice president of global sustainability and president of Gap Foundation David Hayer said in a release. "We believe that access to clean and safe drinking water is a fundamental human right."