Saving Water Where It Matters Most

Many of the world’s textile-producing nations are also those at the highest risk of water scarcity. This puts water on the agenda for brand and mill leaders looking to build resilient, future-ready businesses.

More than half of the world’s population could be living in areas of high water risk by 2050, up from 17% in 2020, WWF, with China, India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Brazil and Turkey among those facing serious freshwater shortages. While the apparel and textile sector contributes greatly to the economies of these nations, it also consumes a huge amount of fresh water to do so. What are the risks for the sector and what can businesses do to balance these competing priorities?

Facing up to water-based risks

Water shortages pose financial and strategic risks to companies throughout the apparel and textile value chain. Water scarcity could dramatically increase the cost of processing and raw materials, such as cotton. Stricter water usage regulations could bring the threat of penalties or even factory shutdowns. And brands could face reputational damage among consumers, investors and partners if they are seen to be contributing to freshwater pollution or ignoring water issues.

Environmental disclosure system CDP has found few apparel and textile companies tracking or reporting water-related data, although some are beginning to equate business resilience with keeping pace with regulation and public sentiment.

Embracing context-based targets

Context-based water management is a sophisticated strategy under which companies set water usage targets at a community level, taking the community’s specific water challenges into account. Major international brands are already setting location-specific water usage and quality targets:

  • Polo Ralph Lauren has a goal to reduce total water use in its operations and value chain by at least 20% by 2025 while increasing community water access. It has recently completed its first global water footprint measurement in partnership with WWF and launched Color on Demand, the world’s first scalable zero-wastewater cotton dyeing system, using technologies from Huntsman Textile Effects and other innovators.
  • Levi Strauss & Co. has set a target to reduce the amount of water it uses in manufacturing in areas of high water stress by 50% by 2025, compared to a 2018 baseline. This involves helping factories and fabric mills in these areas adopt water-saving products, tools and processes.
  • Gap Inc. surpassed 10 billion liters of water saved through innovations in its fabric mills and laundries in early 2020, thanks to joint efforts with suppliers. It has since introduced new targets, aiming to build a water-resilient value chain by 2030 and to have a net-positive water impact in water-stressed regions by 2050.
  • H&M has pursued a data-driven Water Stewardship policy in partnership with WWF since 2011. Its suppliers regularly assess their specific water risks and set aspirational water usage and quality goals. H&M also works with stakeholders beyond its value chain, such as farmers in the Taihu basin of China’s Yangtze River.

As all these examples make clear, collaboration is key, with fabric mills and dye houses in water-stressed regions on the front lines of the textile sector’s response to water management issues. Water-saving textile dyes and effects have a big part to play.

When Huntsman Textile Effects introduced AVITERA® SE in 2010, we set off a revolution in cellulosic (CEL) processing. Well established in the market now, created a new milestone in reactive dyeing. AVITERA® SE dyes allow mills to dramatically reduce the dyeing and washing-off cycle, offering substantial water and energy savings.

The AVITERA® SE dyes are poly-reactive dyes with a high diffusion rate and a fixation rate that is very close to the exhaustion rate. This means that only a very small amount of the hydrolyzed (or water-diluted) dye remains on the fabric to get washed off. This hydrolyzed dye can be removed using less water and at a much lower temperature, leading to savings of up to 50% of water, energy and CO2 emissions.

Polyester-cellulosic dyeing breakthrough

In another breakthrough, we have combined the AVITERA® SE reactive dyes with our TERASIL® W/WW disperse dyes in a new SE Fast process that delivers the shortest possible processing time for dyeing polyester-cellulosic (PES-CO) blends.

The key here is that the TERASIL® W/WW dyes are alkali-clearable and less sensitive to reduction, even under extreme conditions. They are washed off during the CO dyeing fixation phase in the alkaline washing bath, delivering outstanding fastness for all shade depths. This means that the TERASIL® W/WW dyes will not stain cotton or other CO fibers, even on difficult shades like Dark Navy and Dark Red.

With this TERASIL®-enabled alkaline clearing and AVITERA® SE delivering high-speed, low-temperature wash-off, the time required to dye PES-CO blends is reduced from around nine hours to just six, allowing mills to increase production quantity and efficiency. The process also uses around 50% less water and energy.

Polyester production advancement

ERIOPON® E3-SAVE is another next-generation water-saving innovation from Huntsman Textile Effects. An all-in-one textile auxiliary for PES processing, it eliminates the need for separate pre-scouring, allowing pre-scouring, dyeing and reduction clearing to be combined in a single bath.

The unique polymer technology of ERIOPON® E3-SAVE promotes controlled exhaustion to ensure right-first-time level dyeing. It extracts oil and oil-based impurities from the fiber during processing and displays a high affinity to disperse dyes, enabling the rapid removal of unfixed surface dyes from the fiber during reduction clearing.

Mills that use ERIOPON® E3-SAVE enjoy dramatically shorter PES processing, whether using yarn or piece dyeing, where it also eliminates the need for anti-foaming products. Substantial water and energy savings are possible. In its first year on the market, ERIOPON® E3-SAVE helped mills collectively save more than 130 million liters of water.

Consumer demand for sportswear and athleisure clothing is on track to continue to rise in 2022, driving demand for PES and PES-CO fabric dyeing, which has traditionally been time-consuming, costly and resource-intensive. At the same time, public awareness of the importance of corporate water management is also increasing. Brands and mills can now respond at speed with easy-to-deploy processing technologies and dyes that deliver water savings and faster turnarounds alongside best-in-class performance and value.

Anish Paliwal, Global Marketing Manager - CEL & DA, Huntsman Textile Effects
Craig White, Global Brand Sales, Huntsman Textile Effects
Martin Weber, Global Marketing Manager - Washfast, Huntsman Textile Effects

#Sustainability #Innovation