Water is a major challenge for the textile and apparel industry, which is one of the largest consumers and polluters of water in the world. According to the World Bank, the textile industry uses about 93 billion cubic meters of water annually, equivalent to 4% of the global freshwater withdrawal. Moreover, the textile industry discharges about 20% of the global industrial wastewater, which contains harmful chemicals, dyes, and microfibers that contaminate the environment and affect human and animal health.
Arvind Ltd. and Gap Inc. have come together to address an urgent and complex issue by launching the Global Water Innovation Centre for Action (GWICA) at Arvind’s Santej unit near Ahmedabad, India. The centre, inaugurated on January 13, 2024, aims to improve water management practices in the global textile and apparel industry. It will provide a collaborative platform for apparel companies, manufacturing suppliers, vendors, sustainability experts, academics, and environmental stakeholders. GWICA will showcase innovations, share best practices and technological advancements, and offer training and education for industry professionals and students. This partnership demonstrates a shared commitment to sustainability, collaboration, and making tangible changes in the apparel manufacturing industry.
Arvind and Gap have a long-standing relationship that spans over two decades and share a common vision of taking action to address the water crisis. Arvind, which is one of the largest textile manufacturers in the world, has been a pioneer in water conservation and stewardship in India, where water scarcity and pollution are severe problems. Arvind has implemented various initiatives to reduce its water footprint, such as rainwater harvesting, water recycling, zero liquid discharge, and water replenishment. Arvind has also developed innovative products and processes that use less water, such as waterless denim, indigo dyeing, and digital printing.
Gap, which is one of the largest apparel retailers in the world, has also been a leader in water sustainability in the industry through its comprehensive water stewardship strategy that covers its entire value chain, from design to sourcing to stores. Gap has set ambitious goals to reduce its water consumption, improve its water quality, and increase its water efficiency, as well as to support water access and sanitation for the communities where it operates. Gap has also launched various programs and partnerships to promote water innovation and collaboration, such as the Water Quality Program, the Mill Sustainability Program, the Women + Water Alliance, and the Apparel Impact Institute.
GWICA is the culmination of Arvind and Gap’s joint efforts to create a global hub for water innovation in the textile industry and to inspire and empower other industry players to join the movement. GWICA is located at Arvind’s Santej unit, which is a state-of-the-art facility that showcases Arvind’s water-saving technologies and practices, such as the sewage water treatment plant that uses membrane bioreactor technology to eliminate the use of freshwater in denim processing and the rainwater harvesting system that collects and stores rainwater for irrigation and groundwater recharge. GWICA covers an area of 18,000 square feet and is constructed from sustainable materials such as bamboo, recycled wood, and fly ash bricks.
GWICA comprises four key components that aim to transform the water landscape in apparel manufacturing:
• House of knowledge: GWICA serves as an open-source repository that stores a wide range of knowledge products related to water management in apparel manufacturing. This repository contains both physical and digital materials and is constantly updated with the help of external experts. It offers a diverse collection of resources, including books, journals, reports, case studies, videos, podcasts, and articles. These materials cover a variety of topics, such as water conservation, water quality, water efficiency, water governance, water innovation, and water education.
• Training initiatives: Education is central to GWICA’s mission, offering comprehensive training programs for operator-level staff in textile factories as well as annual water management training modules, available both in-person and online, to industry professionals. The training programs provide participants with tools and skills for sustainable water practices, such as water auditing, water metering, water budgeting, water recycling, and water treatment. The training modules cover various aspects of water stewardship, such as water policy, water standards, water risks, water opportunities, and water solutions.
• R&D lab and incubation: The lab serves as a “launching pad” for piloting and incubating six innovative water solutions that aim to revolutionize water management practices in the apparel sector. The solutions include:
- Waterless dyeing: A technology that uses supercritical carbon dioxide instead of water to dye fabrics, reducing water consumption, energy consumption, and chemical usage.
- Smart irrigation: A system that uses sensors, data analytics, and artificial intelligence to optimize irrigation for cotton farming, reducing water consumption, fertilizer usage, and crop losses.
- Bio-enzymes: A process that uses natural enzymes instead of chemicals to treat and soften fabrics, reducing water consumption, energy consumption, and chemical usage.
- Nano-filtration: A technology that uses nanomaterials to filter and purify wastewater, removing contaminants, dyes, and microfibers, and recovering water and valuable resources.
- Solar desalination: A technology that uses solar energy to desalinate seawater, produce freshwater and salt, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions and water scarcity.
- Hydroponics: A method that grows plants without soil using water and nutrients, reducing water consumption, land usage, and pesticide usage.
• Unveiling innovations: GWICA provides tours of Arvind’s installations, allowing people to experience hi-tech solutions like waterless denim, indigo dyeing, and digital printing firsthand. Additionally, GWICA creates platforms for innovators and start-ups to display their water-saving advancements, including waterless washing, color-changing fabrics, and biodegradable fibers.
• Collaborative spaces: GWICA serves as a platform where suppliers, brands, industry associations, and other stakeholders can come together to exchange ideas, share best practices, and form partnerships to promote water sustainability. Additionally, GWICA organizes a range of events and activities, including workshops, seminars, webinars, and hackathons, to encourage dialogue, learning, and collaboration within the water community.
GWICA showcases water stewardship activities that replenish water for nature, such as rainwater harvesting, groundwater recharge, and wetland restoration. It encourages collective action to enhance water resilience for ecosystems and communities affected by the apparel industry worldwide.
In summary, GWICA is a unique and innovative initiative that aims to revolutionize water usage and management in the textile and apparel industries. It provides a collaborative platform for water innovation and action. By leveraging the strengths and expertise of Arvind and Gap, GWICA aims to inspire and empower other industry players to join the movement and create a more sustainable and competitive textile industry.