Water, the new oil
Water sustainability in Bangladesh RMG Industry
Water will in future become more valuable than oil as rising demand from people, industries and agriculture will apply pressure on the scarce water supplies worldwide. We can live without oil as alternative green production sources become available. But we cannot live without water. Recent reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that global warming will lead to “changes in all components of the freshwater system.” The conclusion being that “water and its availability and quality will be the main pressures on, and issues for, societies and the environment under climate change.” Wars and conflicts may even arise due to the scarcity of water.
For a nation like Bangladesh, water scarcity could become a grave issue as it hinders economic growth and may lead to forced migration and uneven consequences across the nation. Global warming has already begun to show how it can impact the world's water resources. So, it's high time we should rethink how we use water in the country's readymade garment (RMG) sector.
The growth of the world population increases by 83 million per year. The current world population of 7.6 billion is expected to reach 8.6 billion in 2030, 9.8 billion in 2050 and 11.2 billion in 2100, according to a new United Nations report launched in May this year. This alone will put pressure on the fresh water scarcity, next to climate changes and the industries, agriculture and consumers' need for washing, cooking and drinking water. Thus, we have a responsibility in the RMG sector.
Why do we need to rethink and take responsibility? What is the situation in Bangladesh? We have just celebrated that we are now going to become a middle-income nation. Could the scarcity of water halter our growth as a nation? The WHO estimates that 97 percent of the people of Bangladesh have access to water but only 40 percent have proper sanitation. With a shocking 60 percent of our population living with unsafe drinking water, Bangladesh is facing staggering problems in terms of health issues. Bangladesh needs healthy workers to keep growing its GDP. The agricultural industry providing food for our nation is directly competing with the RMG that provides 83 percent of the export. Declines in water availability and quality can increase competition for clean water. Community opposition to industrial water withdrawals and perceived or real inequities in water usage may even emerge and affect businesses profoundly.
At the same time that we as a nation need to prepare to address climate change and the major issues that will come with it, water scarcity and salinity intrusion being the primary sector that will be affected, our RMG industry needs to be at the centre of this stride as this sector provides the growth for the nation. We need to build ties and bridges to the government and local communities addressing and agreeing on how to use water for the best use for people and industry and ultimately Bangladesh.
No doubt we need our international partners who visit Bangladesh and buy our services and goods to take responsibility for our shared problems. The Water PaCT Bangladesh is one of those partnerships founded to drive the wet processing in textile sector in the country towards a more sustainable performance and better water and resource efficiency. The PaCT helped individual factories identify and implement Cleaner Production (CP) measures in water, energy and chemical use in the dye house, within the factories' utilities and effluent treatment plants (ETPs).
There are also a few examples of big brands working to improve and safeguard their water usage. Levi's, in partnership with one of its Chinese suppliers, recently made 100,000 pairs of jeans using 100 percent recycled water. As a result, Levi´s claimed to have saved 12 ml of water, the equivalent of almost five Olympic-size swimming pools. Levi's now provides all its supplier factories with technical guidance on reusing and recycling water with its new water-saving standard, a body of requirements the brand will share with other textile industry stakeholders in true sustainability codex.
In 2012, WWF and H&M conducted an evaluation of H&M's water related challenges, to evaluate the company's new water strategy. While Nudie jeans have implemented a water reuse policy in its manufacturing process and urges customers not to wash their jeans for six months as about 2/3rd of all water waste is happening at the homes of consumers because of over-washing of their garments.
The textile industry uses 4 billion tons of water a year to produce 30 billion kilos of fabric. According to the World Bank, it alone will account for 17-20 percent of the world's water pollution. Imagine that. Consequently, manufacturers have to turn to new, more sustainable manufacturing processes, like the solution developed by the Dutch company DyeCoo. Adopted by Nike and Adidas, for example, the DyeCoo process dyes polyester without water, chemical additives or drying. It pressurises carbon dioxide (CO2) to the right temperature to turn it into liquid and gas. This “fixes” the colours of the fabric. As proof of the promise of this solution, the global sportswear giant Nike is now a shareholder in DyeCoo, whose R&D teams are now developing similar technology for nylon and cotton.
Locally in Bangladesh we also need to take responsibility for our own eco-system and our own industry. We need to inspire our partners. We need to show the way—locally and globally. Innovation, technology and thinking out of the box could be the way forward where Bangladesh could move from an underdog to an inspiration for many. We may think of establishing an innovation hub nationally sponsored by the government and funded by the RMG manufacturers and international partners to solve our future problems.
Mostafiz Uddin is the Founder and CEO of Bangladesh Apparel Exchange (BAE) and Bangladesh Denim Expo. He is the Managing Director of Denim Expert Limited. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.