On Being Water Conscious in Textiles

By Zhao Lin 16 June, 2015

Solidaridad's Zhao expands on their Better Mill Initiative (BMI) and provides solid business cases in water savings

Textile sector today faces unprecedented sustainability challenges; water a key concern but need holistic solutions
16 mills in BMI achieved average savings of 3.8% in water & 2.6% in energy giving total cost saving of RMB40mn
These savings can be achieved with minimal investment & short payback periods; aligns with Chinese govt agenda

Solidaridad, an international network organization with ten regional expertise centers worldwide, launched the 3-year Better Mill Initiative (BMI) in partnership with H&M and other major international retailers. The program supports 43 textile dyeing and printing mills to improve their environmental and social performance through tailor made support, group learning and experience exchange.

Today the textile printing & dyeing industry is facing unprecedented sustainability challenges

The unprecedented sustainability challenges faced by the textile printing and dyeing industry today have received immense attention from the public. Such challenges revealed that in order for the industry to stay competitive, transition towards more sustainable production and a greener supply chain is imperative. Doing so requires a holistic and collaborative approach where all players along the supply chain are committed to making joint efforts and to share responsibilities.

Water continues to be of crucial concern to sustainability challenges… BMI addresses this through an integrated approach

Achievements made in the BMI have demonstrated that through partnerships and a result-oriented approach, building sustainability into business models can have positive impacts on economic, social and environmental performance.
Key Factors Influencing Production Process
Water continues to be of crucial concern to the sustainability challenges of the textile industry that is also known for excessive resource consumption and severe pollution generation.
To this end, by taking an integrated approach, BMI addresses these key sustainability challenges. Water and energy efficiency, waste management (including air emissions, wastewater and solid waste), and chemical management are hence identified as the key themes of all interventions delivered which are identified through systematically analyzing the 8 key factors as illustrated in the figure right.

Key savings potential

Over the last 15 months, with the great efforts from the participating mills, a total of 268 improvement measures have been successfully implemented by 16 mills, out of which, 12 were nominated by H&M. Such implementations have translated into total savings of:

Over the last 15 months 268 improvement measures have been successfully implemented by 16 mills
45% of improvement measures are management related & 70% require investment <RMB50k (see below two pie charts)

Water & Energy Saving Potential
Statistics show that nearly 45% of the improvement measures are management related (see chart below left), which in general requires relatively low financial investment. This is confirmed by the data in the chart below right, showing that close to 70% of the improvement measures require investment less than RMB 50,000. Only 18% of the improvement measures require high investment (>RMB 500,000), for example upgrading of high-tech production facilities (see chart below right).

Percentage of actions by 8 key factors and investment

Percentage of actions by payback period

Nearly 80% of improvement measures have payback period <2 years which could motivate companies to futher invest

The financial analysis also indicates that close to 80% of the investments made are with payback period of less than 2 years, which allow the mills to benefit from the quick economic return and motivate them to invest capital in other improvement potentials where possible.

Water-conscious actions in the textile industry making money

The textile printing and dyeing process is highly water intensive and generates an enormous amount of wastewater, which contains various pollutants, including toxic chemicals. Good practices to reduce, reuse and recycle water are therefore not only conducive to reducing the negative impacts to the environment, but also to saving the costs of freshwater intake and end-of-pipe wastewater treatment.
Percentage of actions by payback period - 2

~15% of improvement measures are related to water management

In BMI, approximately 15% of improvement measures are related to water management, as shown in the chart on the right.
Initial results from the case studies below are indicating short payback periods with economic & water savings.
Please note the following business cases on water management summarized from the partnering suppliers of H&M. Also note that this data is preliminary and will be verified in the future. Furthermore, the annual cost saving might decrease progressively year by year due to the machinery depreciation leading to a longer pay back period.
Business case 1: Caustic soda reclamation
BMI-Business case 1
A total of RMB1,200,000 was invested to install the caustic soda reclamation equipment with more efficient steam-water ratio of 1:4, which resulted in steam saving of 5,000 tonnes p.a., and recycled water of 24,000 tonnes p.a.. In addition, a total of 7,200 tonnes p.a. of caustic soda is reclaimed, which not only improves the resource efficiency, but also significantly reduces the load of wastewater treatment. The implementation results in an annual cost saving of RMB 913,000, with a payback period of 20 months.

Facts and Figures - Business case 1

Business case 2: Installation of energy efficient steam traps
Old steam traps used to have the problem of high steam leakage (> 10%), which requires frequent repair and maintenance. A total of RMB800,000 was invested to install energy-efficient steam traps on each drying cylinder so as to minimize steam leakage and to recycle the condensation generated. It is calculated that a total of 16,000 tonnes p.a. steam can be saved, and 80,000 tonnes of condensation recycled, resulting in an annual saving of RMB3 million.
Facts and Figures - Business case 2

BMI-Business case 2

Business case 3: Recycling of cooling water and condensate
Cooling water and condensate generated from the dyeing process are collected and stored in a well-insulated storage tank, and are reused in the washing process. Reuse of such water which has a remaining temperature of 60°C, not only reduces freshwater consumption, but also increases the temperature of freshwater and reduces steam consumption.

BMI-Business case 3

Facts and Figures - Business case 3
It was calculated that such installation resulted in an annual reduction of steam consumption up to 2,931 tonnes p.a., and water saving of 64,000 tonnes p.a. The investment of RMB 500,000 translates into a cost saving of RMB 630,500.
Business case 4: Installation of water efficient dyeing machine
BMI-Business case 4
In order to improve water efficiency, a total of RMB 4,000,000 was invested to install new dyeing machines. Comparing with the old ones, the new equipment is with relatively low liquid ratio of 1:5, which results in annual water and steam saving of 64,000 tonnes and 1,318 tonnes, respectively.

BMI proves sustainable production with economic gains is possible

The achievements made in BMI, in particular the specified water and energy saving practices with relatively short payback period have proven that maintaining sustainable production while gaining economic benefits is possible.

“The efforts of increasing resource efficiency and emission reduction made by industries should be in line with the Chinese government’s agenda.”

The efforts of increasing resource efficiency and emission reduction made by industries should be in line with the Chinese government’s agenda, China’s Water Ten Plan for example. To ensure long-term business viability, it requires a holistic approach that coordinates and addresses economic, social and environmental performances at every stage of the production process.

Further Reading

  • Made in China 2025: Are You On The List? – How does the new Made in China 2025 Action Plan fit with other ‘Future China’ plans? Are the ten industries in Made in China 2025 the same as the Circular Economy Ten? Find out why which list matters
  • Clean by Design: Gaining Traction – Many factories look to MNCs to help address environmental issues that have arisen from textile production but there is scant on ground corporate engagement by brands. See how NRDC’s ‘Clean By Design’ textile mill programme in China has achieved stellar results despite this. NRDC’s Linda Greer expands
  • Water Ten & Fashion: 8 Reasons to Leap or Fall – China Water Risks’ Hu shares 8 reasons why China’s Water Ten is actually an ultimatum for textiles to leap or fall. They need to decide which soon, as there is only two to three years before the paradigm shift
  • Putting Waste Back Into Fashion – China is clamping down on textiles due to the heavy pollution & waste from the industry. With potential new revenues streams in recycling, hear from Redress CEO Christina Dean on how the EcoChic Design Award’s army of sustainable designers is closing the loop on textile waste
  • China’s Economy: Linear to Circular – After Germany and Japan, China is the third country globally that has enacted polices to move towards a circular economy. China Water Risk’s Thieriot on how and why China needs to make this transition. Which industries are affected, what is the role of industrial parks?

China & Textiles

  • Risks Shifting Beyond the Wall – In China’s printing & dyeing sector centralised wastewater treatment brings centralised pollution, Ma Yingying of the Institute of Environment & Public Affairs tells China Water Risk. Lax supervision & vague responsibilities between factories & treatment facilities leave brands exposed
  • Dirty Thirsty Wars – Fashion Blindsided – CLSA report titled “Dirty Thirsty Fashion: Blindsided by China’s water wars”, examines how China’s water risks could blindside the US$1.7 trillion global fashion industry. Is this the end of fast fashion? Debra Tan expands
  • OEM: Stuck in the Middle – China National Textile & Apparel Council’s Hu Kehua on challenges ahead for textile OEMs in meeting the new textile industry standards and brands’ product needs and why joint efforts  all parties along all stages of the supply chain including design are needed to move towards a circular economy
  • Chinese Appetite for Dirty Fashion – Do Chinese consumers know fashion’s ‘dirty’ secret? Will it change the way they shop? Liu talks to fashion bloggers, fast fashion managers, taobao shop owners, housewives, NGOs, students
  • Brand Rankings Through A Chinese Lens – See how global and local brands rank across 8 sectors in terms of their supply chain’s environmental impact in this review of the new Corporate Information Transparency Index (CITI) report by IPE & NRDC
Zhao Lin
Author: Zhao Lin
Zhao Lin, Program Manager of Solidaridad China. She is responsible for overall coordination, resource allocation and operations of Solidaridad’s environmental and social projects in China, and has implemented projects on water/energy efficiency, waste management, social/labor relations etc., covering textile, chemical, and electronics sectors.
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