How do you save millions of water tonnes per year?
I first heard of the Swedish Textile Water Initiative at Fashion Talks on Stockholm Fashion Week SS16 in August of 2015. I thought at the time that it would be great to hear more about it and finally contacted in January the Projects Manager Rami AbdelRahman and SIWI’s Communications Specialist Maya Rebermark to set up an interview. I arrived at SIWI where STWI resides, shook hands with Rami and we got seated in an area that reminded me of an old explorer’s club /academic library in London. The brown leather chairs and wooden furniture provided a nice and cozy atmosphere for the interview. I had a bit of a problem with my recording device (read iPhone) and resorted to pen and paper instead (I know – journalism old school!).
So Rami, tell me more about the Sweden Textile Water Initiative? What is it?
STWI started in 2010 as a learning platform for Swedish brands who came together with us at SIWI (Stockholm International Water Institute) to understand and mitigate water risk. That co-operation throughout the years evolved into a network that meets regularly to continue to learn about addressing water issues in supply chains. We have also developed working groups that have put forward Guidelines for Sustainable Use of Water in Manufacturing.
In 2012 we decided to take the bold step of actually changing things on the manufacturing floor. We started with three brands – Indiska, Lindex and KappAhl, coming together with us at SIWI and co-financing from SIDA. We started with 40 suppliers and sub-suppliers of these brands, based in India, applying an interesting methodology. We basically build the capacities of factories, hand hold them through project implementation and help them improve their margins by increasing water, energy and chemical use efficiency.
We suggested to them different projects where they could combine sustainable use of resources with cost-savings. Thus we were able to create a very successful pilot 2013-2014, with which we recently won Sweden’s first Fashion Industry Sustainability Award.
What is so special about this pilot project was that:
- It is a collaboration among competitors, both in Sweden and in India
- It created a mind shift towards sustainable thinking by linking profitability and sustainability
- It changed the mindset of the factory owners
The ROI for the factories after implementation was 765% in total or 420% average between both project years, and they managed to save more than 3 million tons of water in that period (2013-2014). Which helped convince the owners how good the whole project is for all parties involved.
Quite impressive! So what is happening now? Is it easy to get those factories on board?
Now we have similar projects in India, China, Bangladesh, Turkey and Ethiopia with 20 brands, including H&M, IKEA, Filippa K, etc. We use the brands as door openers to access the supplier base.
Governments are pushing factories on pollution control as well, which makes it easier to get the factories on-board. They get help with the initial assessments of their manufacturing, which shows them the feasibility of switching to the new methodology.
Eventually STWI will become self-sustainable in that respect. The Indian and Chinese governments are willing to invest in these projects because they help the governments create better jobs and a better environment. Private-public co-operations are really on the rise now.
How many people work at Sweden Textile Water Initiative?
We have a team of seven people working in Sweden and teams of 5-10 local experts working in each country. We also have access to many of SIWI’s resources – it acts not only as the secretariat of Sweden Textile Water Initiative, but also provides experts on water policy, water research platforms, media, etc.
So what is the methodology for saving water?
Water works as a “cost-carrier” in textile manufacturing. The cost of moving water around, purifying it, heating it, cooling it, treating and retreating it can make up to 70% of a dyeing house’s operational costs. That affects the staff’s productivity significantly.
Water is taken for granted by factories as it is considered a “free” resource or its sourcing price is severely under-valued. So we show factories how improving the efficiency of their water processing improves the cost-efficiency of water, energy, chemical and labour costs. Then we suggest to them plans to achieve manageable targets, and provide them with technical support along the way.
In the meantime, we also educate factories on the concepts of cleaner production and environmental management systems, through expert workshops and facilitating exchange of experiences among factories.
Do you see an interest to participate from brands outside of Sweden?
Yes, we do see a growing international interest and we are happy to cooperate. For example, we are in discussion with the European Commission to see how we can facilitate a similar scale-up for the EU. By 2017, a directive will oblige companies with 500 employees or more to submit a Social and Environmental report along with their Annual one. Sweden is already enforcing that rule for companies with 250 employees or more.
Do you work only on water savings with the participating brands and factories?
No, not only. Water recycling takes up a lot of energy. Water, chemicals and energy can be seen as one system in a factory. We show the factories how they can achieve that and make savings.
What is the challenge now?
The challenge now is to reduce dependency on public funding in our Public-Private Partnership, and improve private financing to make our work financially self-sustainable for the long run. We are planning to set up an alumni network of factories to continue to work with us at their own cost. We have already an Indian Textile Water Initiative taking shape so hopefully more will follow.
Ekaterina Larsson is a freelancing Digital Communications Consultant and Marketing Manager who has worked with organisations including Stockholm International Water Institute and Greenpeace.