Collaborations across the board – among experts, international brands, national governments and manufacturers along the fashion value chain – are key to achieving effective wastewater management. In this blog, two international experts from The Sustainability Consortium discuss the story of how the Wastewater 101 Toolbox was born and how it contributes to a cleaner fashion value chainDr. Sarah E Lewis, Senior Director (Innovation), and Jessica Kosak, Manager (Technical Development).

Enabling future generations to live and thrive is at the heart of why creating sustainable systems is so important. The success of our businesses, our communities and the eco­systems on which we rely requires that we consider and minimize the impacts we have as we make decisions. Without this consideration, we increase our risks, the very thing that business strives to reduce. By working to better understand the Earth’s systems that provide the basis of what we need to live and work, as well as the supply chains that move the products we want to make and sell, we can make decisions that are based on more visibility and more certainty. These efforts reduce the risks of losing access to supply, pol­luting soil, air and water, and help ensure equity and well-being throughout communities.

The Sustainability Consortium (TSC) uses science and collaboration to collectively ad­dress the sustainability challenges associated with the manufacture, use and disposal of consumer goods. TSC has created a system called THESIS that enables supply chain actors to increase visibility into their supply chains, identify the sustainability issues associ­ated with those supply chains, and better communicate to their retail customers. This type of performance assessment provides insight into how to prioritize areas of one’s supply chain where partnership might be needed to address an issue or where investment may be needed to reduce the risks associated with an issue.

One of the issues identified for many consumer goods is wastewater treatment. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) estimates that 80 % of the world’s wastewater flows back into the environment without being treated or reused and it is estimated that industry accounts for at least 26% of the world’s grey water footprint, meaning water that is used and then returned to a nearby catchment (Zhang et al. 2013). These numbers demonstrate that we have a big opportunity to drive change at scale by shifting the way we do business and further valuing the water that makes it possible for us to live and work.

As a result of the need to address the issue of wastewater, a group of members and partners of TSC came together to tackle this issue. The creation of the collaboration coincided with a study conducted by China Water Risk that noted three main drivers of lack of treatment by manufacturers – access to financing, training, and knowledge of how to source green chemistries. With these findings, the task force set out to create a programme to address these needs. This effort started with facilitating access to global resources, assuring that 100 % of the supply chain would have access to resources related to properly treating wastewater and, as part of this, demonstrating the business incentives for taking action.

Together, the group created the Wastewater 101 Toolbox, an online database of curated wastewater resources. The toolbox enables users to find relevant information based on their role in the supply chain, their location and their topic of interest. Initially designed to focus on the textiles industry, the task force is actively expanding the scope to include all sectors of the consumer goods industry.

The Wastewater 101 Toolbox is already being used in three ways:

  1. To help people start a conversation about wastewater with their customers, clients
    and supply chain partners;
  2. To enhance their ability to tell their sustainability story to customers and clients;
  3. To inform trainings and introductions to wastewater.