Fashion sector failing to act on water pollution

The fashion sector is ignoring the risks and opportunities of acting to improve water security with a new report from CDP finding that disclosure within the sector is poor and that companies, despite businesses reporting more than $180m in business opportunities by reducing water pollution.

Fashion sector failing to act on water pollution

Just 23% of the companies analysed have targets in place to reduce water pollution

In 2019, a total of 136 fashion and textile firms were requested by investors and other stakeholders to disclose their water impacts through the CDP platform. However, less than 50% of the companies disclosed data. In comparison, a total of 8,400 companies disclosed through CDP in 2019 on issues such as climate change, forests and water security.

Of the 62 companies that did disclose, only 11% are mapping water pollution across their entire value chains. These companies include Gap Inc, H&M and the world’s largest fashion group Inditex, Burberry and Kering Group.

Kering’s chief sustainability officer Marie-Claire Daveu said: “Water pollution is one of the six environmental impacts covered by Kering’s Environmental Profit & Loss account for nearly 10 years. Because of the large amounts of water used by tanneries, special wastewater treatment measures are required: we have been working with our suppliers to improve processes, and implement programs to protect the environment all along our supply chain.”

CDP’s report, Interwoven Risks, Untapped Opportunities, found that just one of the 62 companies that did disclose mentioned microplastics or microfibres – H&M. It is estimated that the washing of synthetic textiles accounts for around 35% of global microplastics entering into the natural environment.

Additionally,  just 23% of the companies analysed have targets in place to reduce water pollution, while just 6% are monitoring progress on the subject.

The UN has estimated that 80-90% of wastewater is returned to the environment untreated. However, businesses that are acting on water pollution are uncovering $180m in business opportunities, CDP notes.

The UN has estimated that, on a ‘business-as-usual’ trajectory, more than half of the global population will be living in water-scarce areas by 2050. Currently, a quarter of the world’s population across 17 countries are living in regions of extremely high water stress.

CDP’s director of water security Cate Lamb said: “The pressure is mounting for fast fashion to clean up its act when it comes to water pollution. Investors, regulators, customers, and consumers alike are all calling for change. The industry was hit hard by the Covid-19 crisis this year, and the temptation will be there to prioritize short term gains.

“But the road to a resilient recovery lies in embracing sustainability and circular economy practices. This is the direction of travel and the companies leading the way will be best prepared for the future.”

study from WaterAid found that half of all countries receive less than £4 per person, per year, to spend on climate mitigation and adaptation, with developing nations facing the earliest and worst climate impacts among the most underfunded.

In 2020, 515 investors with $106trn in assets and 150+ major purchasers with $4trn in buying power called on companies to disclose.  

Matt Mace

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