According to the CDP report titled ‘Interwoven Risks, Untapped Opportunities’, of the 136 fashion and textile companies requested by investors and customers to disclose water impacts, less than half (62) provided data in 2019. Only seven (or 11%) of these 62 companies (including Gap, H&M and Kering) are showing awareness of water pollution across their whole value chain, and only one of the 62 companies (H&M) mentions microplastics or microfibers, despite the production, use and disposal of textiles being a major source of microplastics. The research also revealed that the companies report over US$180 million in business opportunities related to water pollution reduction, for example through investing in sustainable materials that contribute to improved brand image. Less than a quarter (23%) of analysed companies are setting targets or goals to reduce water pollution, while a mere 6% monitor and report on progress.

Brands, manufacturers and retailers analysed by the report are involved in the fashion/apparel, footwear and home textiles industry, including Adidas AG, Burberry, Gap Inc, H&M, Inditex and Kering Group. These 62 companies disclosed through CDP’s water security questionnaire in 2019, at the request of investors and corporate customers. “Water pollution has been one of the six environmental impacts covered by Kering’s Environmental Profit & Loss account for nearly ten 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”, said Marie-Claire Daveu, Chief Sustainability Officer and Head of International Institutional Affairs, Kering Group.

The CDP’s analysis found the majority of substantive pollution risks reported by these companies were identified in the manufacturing stages of their value chain. Very few substantive risks were reported in other parts of the value chain known to have a high pollution potential; only around one in 10 (11%) even acknowledge that product use and disposal can also contribute to water pollution, and not a single company considers pollution at this stage of the value chain to be a substantive financial or strategic risk.

While only 10% of analysed companies identified opportunities from use of recycled materials, the European Union and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation estimate the circular economy has potential to boost the EU economy by 0.5% of GDP by 2030 and create 700,000 jobs, including in textiles. “Water pollution has been called an ‘invisible crisis’ by the World Bank, and through its excessive water usage, the apparel and textile industry is a major contributor. In 2015 alone, the sector used 79 billion cubic metres of water. Meanwhile the UN has estimated that globally, 80-90% of wastewater is returned to the environment untreated”, said the CDP.