May 05, 2015

Water Savings: In Fashion or Just Nuts?

Elisabeth Lisican

We all know that water goes into making just about everything under the sun, but we might not all be aware of just how much of it goes into making an item as precious as your favorite pair of blue jeans. It’s true: Water is a major part of the apparel industry, and there’s a movement emerging around sustainable clothing manufacturing in part because of it.

As it turns out, cotton and wool are particularly notorious guzzlers of water. For example, it can take more than 700 gal to produce the cotton in one single T-shirt, according to the World Wildlife Federation. That’s a pretty heavy price to pay for the fabric of our lives. 

Big-name clothing brands are taking note of these sobering statistics, and are striving for more sustainable clothing production to reduce their impact on the world’s clean water resources. Levi Strauss, for example, is widely recognized for its water-saving production methods, and some may remember its challenge a while back asking consumers to refrain from washing their jeans as often (not sure how I feel about that one). The company also has had a hand in recycling the water that is used in its clothing production, working with one of its Chinese suppliers to make 100,000 pairs of jeans using 100% recycled water, according to the Levi Strauss website.

Another interesting push is the one for waterless dyes for fabric dyeing. Nike, for example, recently introduced the “ColorDry process,” which uses super-charged liquid carbon dioxide to infuse fabric with bright colors while using less energy, according to the company’s website. 

But will new industry practices like these be enough to keep up with the demands of the environment and water shortages? The issue is perhaps more relevant and close to home now than ever before, and as I write this editorial, the major headline of the season as far as water woes go has just broken: California Gov. Jerry Brown recently instated a mandatory 25% restriction of urban water use. While Brown said the move was necessary, as drought is only appearing to get worse, critics bashed the measure, pointing out that it only accounts for 20% of the state’s water use—leaving industry and the agricultural sector, for example, untouched, according to an ABC News article.

Among the many trending topics following the breaking news was a term known as “almond shaming”—which basically aims to guilt trip the growers and consumers of California’s lucrative production of almonds, arguably the most fashionable nut today. Critics said the almond trend has turned the almond farmer into a symbol of “agricultural power and waste” in California, according to a Bloomberg View piece; numerous sites and blogs cited the sensational statistic that it takes 1 gal of water to produce a single almond.

But before we chastise all things trendy, let’s remember that there must be solutions at hand that allow everyone to still enjoy their favorite products and the fruits—and almonds—of their labor, while also addressing the increasingly dire drought situation in California and in other parts of the world. Hopefully the state will take more multifaceted approaches to conservation to ensure that everyone—both industry and private citizens alike—is doing his or her part to combat the devastating problem of water shortage.

About the author

Elisabeth Lisican is managing editor of Water & Wastes Digest. Lisican can be reached at [email protected] or 847.391.1012.