As we increase our water efficiency, we must also ensure the wastewater we produce is properly managed. We maintain that any amount of improper discharge is unacceptable.
The apparel industry requires large volumes of water to be used in the dyeing, treating and finishing stages of production.
VF is committed to making every possible attempt to reduce our water use. But no matter how much we reduce, producing footwear and apparel still requires various wet processes, and the water used in those processes must be cleaned and treated before returning to the watershed. Through proper chemical management efforts and responsible wastewater practices, we will make certain that all wastewater is treated and discharged properly, not only in our owned manufacturing facilities, but also across our contract suppliers.
Our owned manufacturing facilities are reducing water usage by improving plumbing fixtures and sensors, optimizing water pressure, using native plants and responsible irrigation techniques in landscaping and minimizing water for internal laundries’ wash. These strategies are essential when one considers, for example, that operations at our Yucatan, Mexico, manufacturing facility require one million gallons of water per day.
Our owned facilities are dedicated to ensuring that all water used not only meets local standards, but also often exceeds them. In some cases, the water we discharge is cleaner than the water we bring into the production process. We have invested in highly advanced wastewater treatment systems, and we conduct daily water testing at our owned manufacturing facilities. Twice each year, independent parties conduct audits to ensure we meet quality standards for water discharged from our operations.
In Acanceh, Mexico, we have implemented new water processes to ensure that our facility is nearly 100 percent non-consumptive, meaning nearly all of the water we use is returned to the watershed. This achievement was recognized with the Governor’s Award for water stewardship in 2011, which is awarded by Mexico’s National Environment Agency.
MANAGING WATER IN ACANCEH, MEXICO
VF’s facility in Acanceh, Mexico, produces 30 million pairs of jeans every year. The Yucatan Peninsula has very little surface water, so VF and the residents of Acanceh rely on aquifers to meet our freshwater needs. When the rate of water withdrawal from an aquifer is greater than the rate of replenishment, the aquifer becomes over-extracted and its water level falls. This can lead to salt-water intrusion and other issues that can potentially render an aquifer unusable.
While the Mexican government has increased its environmental standards and enforcement, VF is going well beyond legal requirements in Acanceh. Our processes are nearly 100 percent non-consumptive, meaning nearly all of the water we use is returned to the watershed.
Our on-site water treatment plant separates out solid waste, and then it uses natural bacteria to “eat” any pollutants left in the water. The solid waste is high in nitrogen, making it a great fertilizer for VF’s grounds and local reforestation projects. The solid waste is tested every six months to ensure we meet Mexico’s National Environment Agency standards. The remaining water is often cleaner than it was when we withdrew it, and it is ready for use in irrigation or to be returned directly to the aquifer.
At our facilities in Torreón, Mexico, an innovative wastewater reuse program has reduced our annual water consumption by 63 million gallons, exceeding government requirements. We are currently evaluating new technology that would further increase our water reuse to over 85 percent, up from 45 percent today.
At our facility in Soke-Aydin, Turkey, we partnered with the Ege University’s Textile Engineering department to investigate a wastewater recycling project. After months of research, we are now treating and reusing 220,000 tons of wastewater per year, equal to 88 Olympic-sized swimming pools of water.
VF is consistently looking for ways to use water more wisely.
Suppliers are required to meet VF’s water quality standards or local standards, whichever are stricter. In April 2013, we implemented a new initiative to further improve water quality and ensure compliance with water standards. The program has several elements, including the adoption of Business for Social Responsibility’s (BSR) Sustainable Water Guidelines. The BSR standards have been adopted by many of our peers to ensure that no matter where a supplier facility is located, water use and discharge to the surrounding community are conducted responsibly.
VF’s water quality standards apply to any supplier that is subject to VF audits (all nominated suppliers) and any supplier that uses at least 50 cubic meters of water a day in its manufacturing processes. This includes fabric mills, laundry facilities, dye facilities and tanneries.
To determine if a supplier is meeting our standards, first, we determine whether the facility discharges to a publicly-owned treatment works or the environment. If the facility is discharging to a publicly-owned treatment works, we verify that it has a permit to discharge all of its wastewater to the publicly-owned treatment works. If the facility is discharging to the environment, we review the wastewater test report in detail to confirm that the facility’s discharge practices meet the criteria set forth in the VF wastewater standard and verify that the report has been certified by a third-party laboratory.
Any facility declared out of compliance is immediately placed on a corrective action plan. The facility will have two months to return to compliance with the policy. Facilities that require large-scale capital investments (approximately $1 million or more) may be granted an extension on a case-by-case basis.