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Sustainable Water Resource Management (SWAR)

Updated: 25 May 2015

The textile industry is the number one industrial polluter of water on the planet. Now Swedish clothing brands Indiska, KappAhl and Lindex have joined forces to help their suppliers become more eco-friendly.

Manish Gupta is the Director of Richa Industries, one of the largest textile manufacturers in northern India. One of Richa’s plants produces fabric which is then sold to the garment industry. Swedish clothing chains such as Lindex are among the buyers.

Just as most textile manufacturers in India, Richa Industries has a major impact on the environment and the culprit is the wet-processing which gives clothes the right look, for example through bleaching, dyeing and finishing.

“Our major challenge is to reduce our water consumption. We also need to reduce the amount of chemicals that we use since they go into the effluent”, says Manish Gupta.

The company is now on track to do just that. Richa Industries is one of 34 Indian factories participating in the Sustainable Water Resource Management (SWAR), a project run by the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) in partnership with Swedish clothing chains Indiska, KappAhl and Lindex. Their goal is to improve the water management in the textile production while also decreasing the amount of chemicals and energy that is used. There is also training of both management and workers so that they can work continuously with these issues. The project is a pilot to test the guidelines for sustainable water use that were developed by 30 Swedish textile companies in 2010.

According to the World Bank, 20 percent of industrial freshwater pollution stems from the textile industry, which makes it the largest industrial polluter of water on the planet. In 2011, less than 60 percent of India's industrial wastewater was treated, with the remainder flowing into rivers, canals, groundwater or the sea. In some parts of India, textile plants have polluted both ground water and rivers with toxic dyes, making it unfit for both human consumption and irrigation of farmlands. At the same time, millions of Indians lack access to clean water and this is especially true for the poor. As the population grows the strain on the water resources is expected to increase.

The SWAR project is run in two water scarce areas: the Delhi National Capital Region and Jaipur, both in the north-western part of the country. NASA studies have shown that the ground water levels in these parts of India have decreased dramatically in the 2000s.

Most textile industries are aware that more stringent regulatory requirements are to be expected, but few factory owners want to be at the forefront of the development for short-term competitive reasons.

But for Manish Gupta at Richa Industries, change is inevitable.

“In our times water is still easily available and there is no cost. But SWAR has shown us the future. If you don’t save water today, then what will you do tomorrow?”

SWAR includes awareness sessions and workshops, and also hands-on technical work in the factories. Opportunities for resource saving and optimization are identified and fixed, and the efficiency of the infrastructure is improved. 

Since water in India is free of cost and accessible for the textile industry through wells, most textile production units don’t measure the amount of water they use in the production. This is why SWAR is also setting up measurement systems under the motto “you can’t manage what you can’t measure”.

Richa Industries has also introduced a method called “Right first time.” That means that every batch of coloured material should be correct without any need for adjustments or reprocessing at a later stage. The results have been promising so far.

”We are seeing positive signals as our water and coal consumption has reduced. That means that we are on the right track,” says Manish Gupta.

Becoming more eco-friendly is not necessarily a cost for the industry. By reducing the use of water, chemicals and energy, there is money to be saved. Since the industry has very low profit margins even a small impact is meaningful for them.

“By fixing leakages, they can immediately save water. We have taken care of the low hanging fruit and improved the manufacturers’ cost recovery for resources by 1-3 percent”, says Pawan Mehra from Indian consultancy cKinetics who is implementing the project.

What makes SWAR somewhat unique is the fact that the project not only engages suppliers but also sub-suppliers. For many of the competing dye-houses, this has been the first time that they sat down at the same table.

Renée Andersson, Ethics and Environment Manager at Indiska, is happy with what she has seen so far.

“SWAR is a pilot project, and already after seven months we can see that it will lead to good results, both in terms of saving water, energy and chemicals. An equally important aspect is that we raise awareness on the importance of working together. In the Swedish textile industry we have cooperated for many years but for our suppliers, cooperation within SWAR has offered them a new experience.”

Project: Sustainable Water Resource Management (SWAR)
Support: 8.1 million SEK (2013-2014). 50 percent of the project is financed by Sida, 50 percent is financed by the partner companies. SIWI is tasked with the overall project management, and contributes with policy research, outreach efforts and reporting.
Objective: To improve water and wastewater management in textile production processes by saving energy and decrease the amount of chemicals used.

Page owner: The Communication Department

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