Financing Innovations in Industrial Water

By Navneet Chadha, Rong Chen, Zhenzhen Xu 11 February, 2014

With rising water tariffs, IFC's Chadha, Chen & Xu walks us through financing innovations in industrial water

Given limited water supply, IFC targeted the thirsty textile sector first with 50 water efficiency programmes
Mindsets need to shift: linking energy & water makes financing capex for better water use economically viable
A project can have a payback period of 3 - 4 years, save up to 6mn cum of water & up to 30,000 tonnes of GHGs

China is facing a severe water scarcity crisis due to rapid urbanization and climate change impacts.  Although China has 20 percent of the world’s population, it has only 7 percent of the freshwater resources. Availability of good quality freshwater is further limited by increasing environmental pollution of major river systems and lakes. To address the growing water supply-demand gap in China, International Finance Corporation (IFC), the private sector arm of the World Bank Group, is championing industrial water efficiency (WE) by developing and financing projects that save valuable freshwater.

Programme Features

  • Demonstrate business case for WE projects by holistically addressing water, energy, and chemical savings;
  • Promote best practices via market awareness, capacity building, and multi-stakeholder engagement;
  • Facilitate access to financing via risk sharing facility with IFC partner banks and other mechanisms; and
  • Provide policy advice to government agencies to enable longer-term uptake of WE projects.


Textile: the first target industry

The first industry targeted is China’s textile sector with annual exports of more than US$212 billion and nearly 50% of the global production. The project focuses on dyeing and printing (DAP) operations within the textile supply chain, which are water-and-energy intensive and have a significant environmental footprint. The Textile DAP sector alone uses nearly 8 billion tonnes of freshwater and 15 million tonnes coal equivalent per year and is in top three in terms of wastewater and chemical oxygen demand (COD) discharges among 39 industries in China.

The Textile DAP sector alone uses nearly 8bn tonnes of freshwater and 15mn tonnes coal equivalent p.a. …

… it is in top 3 in terms of wastewater and COD discharges among 39 industries in China

IFC Image 1 - Machineary

The IFC program is designed to help the private sector address water risks, cut production costs, and grow sustainably. However, motivating factory managers to invest in projects based on the promise of future savings is a formidable challenge given the underpriced water resources and weak regulatory enforcement.

… we are developing projects that not only save water but also energy & chemicals, where practicable…

… this recognizes the importance of managing the energy-water nexus

Water & energy efficiency is as much about changing mindsets as about modifying technology and hardware.

To address this barrier, we are developing projects that not only save water but also energy and chemicals, where practicable. This approach recognizes the importance of managing the energy-water nexus given that it takes water to generate energy and energy to transport water. For example, wastewater recycling can be a viable means of saving significant freshwater but energy-efficient pumps must be used to mitigate the impact of increased pumping costs.

As we quickly learnt, a capital project is not going to be implemented simply because it has a good business case because there is always competition for limited resources and funds. Water and energy efficiency is as much about changing mindsets as about modifying technology and hardware. This is especially challenging given that the IFC program is going beyond relatively simple, low-cost modifications to more advanced interventions.

Although such measures are more complex to develop and require capital investment, the higher water and energy savings will result in greater operating cost savings for the DAP mills and a better developmental impact outcome for IFC.

One year later…

Over the last year, IFC has engaged with well-known global brands including IKEA, Primark, Adidas, and Jones Group focused on the sustainability of their supply chain in China. We are also working with domestic companies to have a representative mix of the textile sector.

The results from the first year of implementation are encouraging with nearly 50 cost-effective projects developed with payback ranging from six months to less than five years.

IFC Image 2 - Fabric 250 pixels






IFC and its consultant teams have now completed investment-grade audits and feasibility studies at 19 facilities in four Chinese provinces. The results from the first year of implementation are encouraging with nearly 50 cost-effective projects developed with payback ranging from six months to less than five years. When fully implemented, this initial batch of demonstration projects will avoid significant freshwater and GHG emissions.  A few DAP mills are already implementing modifications by self-financing projects while others are seeking external financing. The latter are being referred to Bank of Beijing, IFC’s first partner bank formally engaged in developing the nascent water-efficiency-financing market in China.

We present two case studies from IFC’s China Water Program, one for a small textile DAP mill and another for a large textile enterprise to illustrate the types of water-saving measures that can be implemented even under current market conditions if developed holistically to support a company’s business objectives. These could include a need to increase production efficiency, improve product quality, and/or manage environmental impacts.

Case Study One: Fabric Dyeing & Finishing Mill

This project for a knitted fabric dyeing mill in Guangdong Province provides a good example of simple and advanced measures that can save water and energy. Improvements identified are replicable at other small and medium enterprises (SMEs) that may be using outdated technology or older, inefficient equipment.  The following interventions were developed after analyzing the baseline water and energy consumption and benchmarking with industry best practices:

    • Improve energy and water metering systems;
    • Recycle and reuse dyeing and finishing wastewater;
    • Replace high liquor-ratio dyeing machines;
    • Minimize leakage of water and steam;
    • Recover heat from high-temperature wastewater; and
    • Recover waste heat from setting machine.

IFC Image 3 - Machine






This company is immediately planning to implement the top four measures, which will save more than 0.5 million m3 of freshwater and avoid 5,000 tonnes of Green House Gases (GHGs) annually. Investment required is about RMB 3 million for a payback of less than three years. IFC is currently helping the mill secure financing for the package of WE projects.

Case Study Two: Ramie Fabric Company

This project was for one of the largest Chinese producers of degummed ramie (hemp), which is used as a raw material for high-grade textile products.  As part of its capacity expansion, this company in Hunan Province will replace the existing chemical-degumming process based on use of hazardous chemicals with bio-degumming. The alternative technology is based on enzymes, which uses milder conditions and thus saves chemicals, water, and energy. The company will also improve metering systems, implement condensed water recycling, and modify its wastewater treatment plant as part of the factory upgrades.

These interventions will not only increase the company’s revenues but save more than 6 million m3 of freshwater and avoid 30,000 tonnes of GHGs per year. Payback is less than four years and IFC is helping secure financing for RMB 30 million, a portion of the total financing needs. The expansion project also has concurrent social benefits because it will create several thousand additional jobs for local ramie farmers.

What Next?

IFC is continuing to facilitate implementation of the demonstration projects developed so far while raising sector-level awareness. The water scarcity problem in China is much bigger than what a single institution can address, so we are reaching out to local government agencies, NGOs, financial institutions, and other interested stakeholders to help scale up our program and maximize impact.  For example, we are in discussions with clean technology equipment and chemical vendors, who can serve as project aggregators by implementing similar projects in multiple mills.

“The water scarcity problem in China is much bigger than what a single institution can address, so we are reaching out…

We invite global brands and their suppliers to lead implementation of similar water-saving projects.”


Other activities include expanding in textile clusters in Zhejiang, Guangdong, and Fujian Provinces. Since water scarcity is best managed as a local issue, we plan to work with provincial or city level government agencies and our World Bank colleagues to develop water management policies that support longer term uptake of water efficiency initiatives. The recent announcement by NDRC to complete its water price reform by 2015 should help.  IFC’s longer-term plans are to expand the program into other water-intensive sectors in China.

While we have shown that industrial water efficiency can make good business sense under certain situations, much more needs to be done to catalyze a sector-wide shift in China’s textile industry.  We invite global brands and their suppliers to lead implementation of similar water-saving projects. There could be a competitive advantage for those who manage their business risks now in the face of rising water tariffs and decreasing water supplies.


Further Reading

  • China Water Risk’s 5 Trends for 2014 With environmental risk cited as one of the top risks most likely to derail economic growth, check out our top 5 trends in water for the year of the Green Horse
  • Water: Moving Out of Silos As part of CLSA’s latest ESG in China report: “Mopping-up”, China Water Risk’s Debra Tan was interviewed on all things water: from water & coal to textiles, food & government policies
  • Investors Beware: Blackholes & Blacklists Find out how much water the textile industry uses and why high end and high street fashion brands may be exposed to the same reputational risks caused by pollution violations
  • H&M Water Stewardship Claire Hau tells us why water is important to H&M and how it is pioneering water stewardship in fashion from its work with BSR & IPE, partnership with WWF, to its commitment to ban hazardous chemicals by 2020
  • Bridging Gaps to Water Innovation Water scarcity & pollution will drive innovation in partnerships and technology but the road to commercialisation remains long. Will Sarni, Partner at Deloittes discusses the barriers to innovation in the water sector
  • NDRC Says Water Price Reform by 2015 Zhou Wangjun, deputy director at the price department of the National Development and Reform Commission, announced that his department is coming up with a new water pricing mechanism that may mean higher tariffs for industry water users
  • Corporate Conscience: Beyond Charity Why are so few companies effectively mitigating water risk? Is it time for the conscientious corporate to transition water from purely charity and compliance to a core business activity?
  • Bloomberg’s Views on Water Bloomberg’s Liu & Bullard, discuss the importance of ESG analytics and why water use & efficiency data is crucial in the face of an increasingly water-insecure future in identifying portfolio risk
Navneet Chadha
Author: Navneet Chadha
Navneet Chadha is Principal Operations Officer with the International Finance Corporation's (IFC) Sustainable Business Advisory Services where he develops and leads programs in resource efficiency and clean energy for private sector clients in East Asia and Pacific. He is a chemical engineer by training with more than 25 years of experience in environmental management and corporate sustainability with manufacturing companies and consulting firms. Prior to joining IFC Beijing in 2011, he worked for 10 years in a global EH&S leadership role with a US based multinational chemical company with several operations in China. He has practical project experience in more than 20 countries in a variety of industry sectors including textiles, chemicals, petroleum refining, food & beverages, paints and resins, and synthetic rubber.
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Rong Chen
Author: Rong Chen
Rong Chen has 20 years of diversified professional experience in China and abroad. For the past 11 years, she has been a task leader at International Finance Corporation (IFC) in the sustainability business advisory services field, managing multi-national donors’ advisory projects covering water/energy efficiency, cleaner production, corporate social responsibility, sustainability reporting, and environmental, health, safety and social areas. Before joining IFC, she worked in a UK consulting firm in the aviation industry as an assistant project manager in London and Manchester. She has a strong technical background in environmental and waste water areas in the construction industry and has also worked as a water engineer in a reputable Chinese design institute for five years.
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Zhenzhen Xu
Author: Zhenzhen Xu
Zhenzhen leads CWR’s stewardship initiatives which focus on rolling out the Alliance for Water Stewardship’s (AWS) International Water Stewardship Standard across Asia Pacific. She has more than 10 years of experience in the field of industrial water solutions, corporate water stewardship and sustainable financing. Previously, Zhenzhen was based in Shanghai, where she established AWS China, heading a team to design and implement on-ground water stewardship programmes for leading MNCs, global brands, Chinese corporations as well as industrial parks and even university campuses. There, she worked closely with multi-stakeholders in critical regions such as the Yangtze and Pearl River Deltas as well as the Bohai Bay Area. Her time spent with businesses, local governments and NGOs to enhance catchment management through strategy & operational roundtables, trainings and site pilots provides valuable insights to managing basin risks. Zhenzhen also advises them on policy interventions and market incentives to build sustainable and holistic models to protect watersheds. Prior to this, she worked for the International Finance Corporation (IFC), co-leading their China Water Program; Veolia Water and Sogreah Consultancy. She holds a Bachelor of Environmental Engineering from Tongji University and a Master of Environmental Management and Development from the Australian National University.
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