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From Ikea to Gap, firms aim to use scarce water more wisely

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Reuters
Published
today Aug 29, 2019
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Putting on a pair of jeans or drinking a beer has a cost beyond the pricetag, with billions of tonnes of water used globally each year to manufacture them and other consumer goods, companies said at an international water conference on Monday.




But with population growth and climate change making water a scarcer and more precious resource, using water wisely is now a key to remaining profitable, they said.

From growing cotton for textiles to manufacturing drinks and ensuring consumers have enough water as well, efficient water use is high on the agenda, representatives of popular brands said during opening events at World Water Week in Stockholm.

“Gap Inc. sees water as a human right,” Lisa Hook who works on sustainable innovation for Gap Inc. told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “We can’t do business where there is no water.”

Cotton is a thirsty crop and it takes about 1,000 gallons of water to make one pair of jeans, Hook said.

The global apparel industry also contributes about 20% of the pollution in fresh water sources around the world from its laundries, mills and other facilities, she added.

Many businesses now operate in regions facing high water stress, from India to Vietnam and California, company representatives said.

By 2025, half of the world’s population will be living in water-stressed areas, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Population growth, climate change, economic and agricultural expansion and deforestation are all placing greater pressures on the world’s limited supplies of water, scientists say.

For Swedish furniture store Ikea, consumer choice is also an important motivation for improving water practices.

“There is a clear customer demand” for greener products, said Kajsa-Stina Kalin, Ikea’s “healthy and sustainable living” leader.

The reality, she said, is that “climate change is no longer a distant threat” and “as a big global brand we know we are part of the problem but we really want to be part of the solution.”

The company, which had a billion visits to its stores in 52 countries last year, aims to reduce and reuse water in all its operations in a bid to attract environmentally aware customers.

“We know that people are increasingly choosing to not shop at companies and brands that have no active sustainability work,” said Kalin.

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