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Saving water to protect every precious drop

Water is a scarce resource in many parts of the world and one of the fashion industry’s biggest environmental challenges. Conserving, reusing and recycling water is an ongoing effort for H&M Group and during this past year 18,219,486 m3 wastewater was recycled – the equivalent of 7,288 Olympic swimming pools. A number of local initiatives in Asia had a positive impact.

In this treatment plant at one of H&M Group’s supplier’s in India, wastewater is recycled back into production again.

It’s no secret that the textile industry is water intensive. Cultivating cotton, dyeing textiles, garment finishing as well as customer usage all require a great deal of water. An astounding 7,000 litres of water go into making a pair of jeans – enough drinking water to meet one person’s needs for seven years.

Managing water in a more responsible way is therefore at the top of H&M Group’s priority list, as it works towards becoming fully circular and renewable. H&M Group’s Water Roadmap 2018–22 includes a number of targets, for example having 15% recycled water back in the process. This goal was met already in 2020. Additionally, all business partners must comply with H&M Group’s Sustainability Commitment and water management requirements.

Harvesting rainwater and recycling wastewater can make a big impact.

Based in Bangladesh, Sharif Hoque, Water Sustainability Responsible at H&M Group, works closely with partners and suppliers to get a deeper understanding of the water needs in the region.

“Water is a local issue unlike climate”, he says. “This means the challenge and risk that we have in a specific river basin or catchment is unique and the solutions also need to be derived from there. We bring the technical knowledge and the business incentive to support our business partners to become more sustainable”.

Sharif Hoque, Water Sustainability Responsible at H&M Group.

An astounding 7,000 litres of water go into making a pair of jeans – enough drinking water to meet one person’s needs for seven years.

Together with external partners such as WWF, Sweden Textile Water Initiative (STWI) and United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), a number of initiatives to reduce water consumption are underway in H&M Group’s most important production markets: Bangladesh, India and Indonesia. Together, these three markets cover almost 50% of the group’s total production.

Stuart Orr, Global Freshwater Lead, WWF : “The textile industry has an important role to play in the transition to a healthier planet where we combat biodiversity loss and climate crisis, and secure clean water for all. H&M Group has the size and is willing to take responsibility for the whole chain, not just their own footprint. Following a partnership dating back to 2011, H&M Group and WWF just signed a new five year partnership agreement with the ambition to make a change for the whole industry”.

This denim washing machine consumes substantially less water compared to conventional washing machines.

At the Paradise Washing Plant facility in Bangladesh, the inhouse lab is collecting the wastewater discharge sample for quality testing.

The textile industry is Bangladesh’s largest export earner and crucial for the country’s economy. At the same time, Bangladesh’s groundwater is depleting and water efficiency and recycling efforts are urgently needed.

In 2019, H&M Bangladesh initiated a project with one of its suppliers, the Paradise Washing Plant of Ananta Group, to recycle wastewater in the denim washing process. In 2020, the washing plant was able to recycle 25% of its total production water consumed during the year.

Following the success of the project, H&M Bangladesh has taken its water recycling efforts further. Today, 19 denim and twill washing units in Bangladesh are recycling their wastewater and reducing their freshwater consumption.

Water is a local issue unlike climate. We bring the technical knowledge and the business incentive to support our business partners to become more sustainable.

Sharif Hoque, Water Sustainability Responsible at H&M Group.

India also faces severe water shortages, with just 4% of the world’s freshwater resources and a population of over 1.3 billion people. In collaboration with STWI, H&M India is helping suppliers like Shahi Exports, one of India’s largest apparel manufacturers, implement rainwater harvesting and other water-saving systems.

This supplier has also upgraded its effluent treatment system to allow virtually all of its production wastewater to be recycled. “There is no discharge of any wastewater”, says Sharif Hoque. “100% recycled water is used in washing and for the boiler so there is low dependency on external water sources and groundwater”.

Between 2018 and 2020, Shahi Exports managed to reduce its water consumption per piece of clothing by 38%. “We are on a journey to find solutions and want to engage more with our business partners and stakeholders. Ultimately, we want to see the whole industry participating in these efforts”. continues Sharif Hoque.

Indonesia is another major textile producer and while the country has an abundance of fresh water, it is not evenly distributed throughout the country. Textile mill PT. Dewasutratex, one of H&M Indonesia’s business partners, has begun installing rainwater harvesting systems. Between 2017-2020, two PT. Dewasutratex facilities in Bandung collected over 777,317 m3 of rainwater. That’s enough water to cover the needs of 590 Indonesians for a full year.

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