Improving environmental practices and benefitting communities
We engage with our supply chain to address the most important environmental impacts related to making our clothes—water, chemicals and energy during the dyeing and finishing process. Mills demonstrate how environmental practices carry a direct link to people’s health and well-being. Wastewater must be treated before being returned to the surrounding environment to ensure that both ecosystems and nearby communities are protected. Laundries, especially for denim, also require a great deal of water and pose pollution risks.
Gap Inc. is working with fabric mills and laundries to improve practices and leveraging industry partnerships across our supply chain to reduce water and chemicals use. Since many water issues are based on local context, we have mapped all preferred facilities—representing 67 percent of our business—against the World Resources Institute’s (WRI) Aqueduct Water Risk Atlas to help prioritize areas of focus.
Our primary strategy is to enhance our engagement with the mills and laundries in our supply chain and use water-saving methods in the production of our clothing. Our brands also are reducing water impacts through the expansion of our programs such as Washwell™ for denim, which reduces the water used in garment finishing by at least 20 percent. Since it began in 2016 for Gap brand, Washwell™ has been adopted by Athleta, Old Navy and Banana Republic. We also have tools and training programs to help employees expand the use of sustainable raw materials with a positive water impact, and we have connected our design decisions with manufacturing improvements and innovative dye techniques, enabling us to save water in our supply chain while educating our consumers.
To improve resource efficiency, we also partner with the Apparel Impact Institute (Aii) and Partnership for Cleaner Textile (PaCT) on platforms and pilots that have helped facilities reduce water use by an average of 20%.
We encourage and support our suppliers in conducting environmental footprint assessments, including water use, using the Sustainable Apparel Coalition's (SAC) Higg Index. We are also actively monitoring and helping improve wastewater quality at denim laundries through our Water Quality Program (WQP), which has been a requirement for over 15 years. In accordance with WQP, all supplier denim laundries must meet or exceed legal effluent discharge requirements.
Since 2015, we’ve been working closely with our suppliers to share important benchmarking data showing how their environmental performance compares to competitors and peers. With a dashboard, we provide details, by country and factory, on water consumption and energy use—so that we can help our suppliers identify opportunities for improvements.
Part of how we are making such significant gains in water reduction is through a partnership we formed with Arvind Limited and its development of an innovative water-treatment facility. Instead of freshwater, Arvind’s denim mill uses reclaimed wastewater from the city of Ahmedabad.
The facility is projected to save 2 billion liters of freshwater annually, helping to preserve the local community’s vital resource. It will also support sustainability more broadly by using a chemical-free treatment method to clean domestic wastewater drawn from the surrounding community. Moreover, this sustainable approach will build business resilience for Arvind, Gap Inc. and other brands that source from the mill. As climate change and population growth contribute to water scarcity in countries like India—where 54% of the population faces high to extremely high water risk—the apparel sector must create solutions that reduce impacts on freshwater resources.
Looking ahead, we are working with Arvind to build the Water Innovation Center for Apparel, which will promote the adoption of proven techniques and technologies to reduce water use in the textile-manufacturing industry. The 18,000-square-foot space, which will support our 2023 goal for water innovation in apparel manufacturing, will feature installations showcasing water-management best practices and recycling technologies; a library, lab and classroom; and conference spaces for apparel companies, manufacturing suppliers and vendors, and sustainability experts to advance water stewardship across the apparel sector. COVID-19 delayed the construction of the new center, which we expect to begin in 2022.
Mill Sustainability Program
Our Mill Sustainability Program began through pilots in 2013, and in 2018 became a strategic initiative, with the purpose of driving transparency and innovation while reducing compliance risks and contributing to our corporate sustainability goals. By leveraging partnerships, we can analyze and improve the environmental performance of our supply chain. Our suppliers’ involvement is key to our ability to calculate our energy, greenhouse gas and water baselines, which support progress toward our new science-based target for our Scope 3 GHG emissions and help us mitigate water risks. The program is also helping drive improvements in social performance at mills.
We leverage three key industry-wide efforts to support our Mill Sustainability Program:
Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC): As a founding member of the SAC, we use the Higg Index to evaluate suppliers’ environmental performance and engage them to meet our goals. Since 2017, we have expanded our use of the Higg Facility Environmental Module (FEM) 3.0 to collect data from mills’ self-assessments. Increasingly, these self-assessments are verified by a third party. We now ask our strategic mills, which represent over 67% of our total business, to complete the Higg FEM 3.0 annually.
Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals (ZDHC) Roadmap to Zero Programme: We adopted ZDHC Roadmap to Zero Programme tools and resources, such as the Manufacturing Restricted Substances List (MRSL) and Wastewater Guidelines, to work toward the elimination of hazardous chemicals in our supply chain. Since 2018, we have required our strategic mills to test their wastewater and meet a minimum performance standard. In 2019, we began asking our mills with wet-processing capabilities to register to chemicals-management platforms to better track their chemicals management performance.
Social & Labor Convergence Program (SLCP): As a signatory to this collaboration among apparel and footwear brands, retailers, industry groups and civil society organizations, we continue to work with our strategic mills in key geographies to use the SLCP social and labor assessment. We support the shared data-collection tool that can assess the social and labor performance of manufacturing facilities across the apparel and footwear supply chain. In 2020, 99 of our facilities participated in SLCP.
By early 2020, we exceeded our ambitious goal to conserve 10 billion liters of water, saving 11.3 billion liters of water since 2014 through sustainable manufacturing processes, our Washwell™ program, and partnerships and programs with our vendors. These included our collaboration with Arvind Limited to replace freshwater with treated wastewater in its denim mill, which became operational in November 2019.
In 2020, we also used the Higg Index, which is now included on our vendor scorecard, to establish environmental baselines for climate, water and waste for our supply chain. By the end of 2020, all of our manufacturing facilities and 70 percent of our strategic mills had completed a Higg Index questionnaire, with 280 facilities verifying their responses. Their input will inform our water strategy, as well as our science-based climate targets and carbon neutrality goal. In total, 71 facilities participated in our environmental efficiency programs, saving more than 7.5 billion liters of water per year between 2013 and 2020.
During COVID-19, we aimed to maintain standards while respecting the diminished capabilities of our suppliers by offering flexibility in how suppliers met our requirements. Industry organizations such as the SAC continued their outreach, enabling us to gather data from programs such as the Higg FEM 3.0. We also encouraged suppliers to self-report results and environmental plans or submit government test results rather than requiring third-party tests for our Water Quality Program.
We also found ways to run water stewardship and sustainability programs at no cost. For example, Aii launched a free carbon leadership program for five facilities, and we signed a partnership with Schneider Electric to offer free renewable energy for 178 suppliers. We also extended resource-efficiency programs that were due to end in 2020, with five programs across 22 facilities now expected to be completed in 2021.
We are proud that despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, we maintained strong working relationships with our suppliers, enabling us to continue to work toward our resource efficiency and manufacturing goals after pandemic-related disruptions subsided.
A priority for people and our business.
Treating water as a human right.
An overview of our impacts and sustainable practices.
The time to act is now - for all of us.
Reducing impacts at every stage.
A commitment to safety, fairness, dignity and respect.