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WWF & H&M Group: 10 year Result report [2021]


Establishing “The Taihu model”

Between 2014-2020, the partnership engaged in river basin work in the Taihu area in China. The work targeted suppliers, policy makers, local communities and brands – ranging from supplier trainings and scalable industry park programs, to initiating meeting forums where joint water challenges could be addressed.

The Taihu Basin is home to a significant part of China’s manufacturing, including 37 percent of textile production. The intense industry has negative impact on the water resources, with agricultural runoff and wastewater discharge from textile factories polluting the water.

The Taihu basin is one of WWF’s priority areas and for the past ten years, WWF China has been working to find ways to take pressure off the basin. In 2014, H&M Group, through the partnership, was the first global fashion brand to join WWF’s water stewardship program in the Taihu basin. Here, the company supported efforts to raise awareness around water issues and engaged suppliers, brands and policy makers on water stewardship.

During this time, more than five hundred suppliers and industrial parks took part in water stewardship trainings, policy makers actively engaged in water issues and brands such as HSBC, Tommy Hilfiger and Tchibo joined collective action in China. In addition to corporate stewardship actions, government has taken measures to improve water quality in the Taihu Lake – with good results. In recent years, the water quality of Taihu Basin has gradually improved.

The water stewardship measures taken then are today cornerstones of “the Taihu model”, a model that now is scaled up and used in other areas with textile industry clusters present.

Read more about the different elements of the model below.

CHINA: The first stakeholder forum for water stewardship

A stakeholder movement that came to life in Wuxi in 2015 was the Taihu International Forum, bringing together business, NGOs, civil society and policy makers into the same room.

“The idea was to set up a platform for sharing international experience in river basin governance and to promote reform and innovation in China’s basin governance model. The forum was an immediate success and brought people together in a joint mission to find solutions”, Dr. Ren, Regional Head of WWF Shanghai Region, at WWF China said.

The main outcome from the first Taihu Forum put forth a new basin governance model, and participants became aware of the transformational potential. In the forums that followed, the model was further developed, and brought in perspectives from peers working with water issues in Australia and the Baltic region.

Since its inception, the forum has expanded every year, bringing in more participants and including wider areas and regions. It has also given birth to “sub forums”, task groups that engage further in particular topics such as the potential of industrial parks going green and how water stewardship innovation can impact textile production.

Since July 2020, the Taihu Forum has now become part of Textile Going Green, a program that focuses on the textile sector’s green transformation, taking the concept further outside of the Taihu basin.

CHINA: Supplier and industrial park trainings

Water stewardship trainings for suppliers and industrial parks have been held from 2017, covering areas such as local water status and industry impacts, policy development, techniques on wastewater treatment and water standards. The programs have also included visits to factories to showcase water best practice.

Participants were invited to join the trainings by parties such as China National Textile and Apparel Council (CNTAC), Green Development League of National Economic and Technological Development Zones (GDL NETDZ) and corporate brands, such as H&M Group. 

“The trainings were well received, and participants showed a deep interest and actively leaned in to learn more about the issues. The feedback evaluations from the trainings indicate the same, said Chaochao Chen, Textile Going Green Program Officer at WWF China.  

During 2020, as a result of the covid-19 pandemic spreading across the world, the trainings went online. To date, in 2021, more than 320 suppliers, of which 66 are H&M Group suppliers, and nearly 160 industrial park managers have participated in WWFs training programs, online or offline.  

“We see an increased interest in investing in clean tech and engaging in these issues among suppliers. This is very positive, not only because it aligns with H&M Group’s water strategy but also as it benefits the entire industry, as fashion brands often share suppliers”, said Kim Hellström, Climate and Water Strategy Lead at H&M Group.

Among industrial park training participants, nearly 90% state that they consider strengthening communication for sharing water management experiences with factories in the IP – consistent with the focus of water stewardship collective action. Among supplier training participants, more than 70% state improved awareness on business related environmental impacts, and more than 60% state enhanced knowledge on how to take collective actions with other stakeholders.

The programs have also been shared outside of China to Vietnam. The Vietnam Greening Textile program, a partnership between WWF and Vietnam Textile and Apparel Association (VITAS), has been learning and adopting elements of the China Water Stewardship Suppliers trainings, such as water risk awareness and good water efficient practices for its technical supplier trainings in 2020. 


CHINA: Scaling a sustainable model for industrial parks

In 2014, the WWF H&M Group partnership was part of launching the first Water Stewardship Industrial Park project in Taihu. More than twenty textile mills collaborated to improve water management. Four years later, the model was replicated in another park and today, learnings are integrated in industrial park trainings.

In the first Water Stewardship Industrial Park project in Taihu 2014, more than twenty textile printing and dyeing mills at Xixiashu Industrial park cooperated to improve water management. A pilote site within the park participated in water stewardship trainings and invested in clean tech for water efficiency and wastewater treatment.

In just one year, the pilot site could see cost reductions, less COD* discharge, less resources used and increased awareness among staff. A “club” for all printing and dyeing mills in the park was started where they could share experiences and best practice.

“Our understanding about how to protect water resources has increased substantially since we joined WWF’s Water Stewardship program. As water stewardship pioneers, we are happy to share our experiences with others”, said Lingyong, owner of the pilot site Weile Dyeing.

The Song brothers Xixaxu in 2017

Song Lingyong (to the right) runs Weile Dyeing together with his brother.

As the model reaches many sites at the same time, effects can be scaled quicker. Estimations show that if all facilities in the Xixiashu Park would do similar measures as the pilot site, COD discharge of the whole park would decrease with 23 tons every year, taking some pressure off surrounding basins.

The partnership developed an Industrial Park Guideline for Water Stewardship, based on industrial expertise and the learning outcomes achieved in the project. The guidelines were applied by industrial park managers and have been integrated in the training programs of the Green Development League of National Economic and Technological Development Zones (GDL NETDZ).

In 2018, the model was replicated to another industrial park in the area – the Shengze IP with around 30 textile printing and dyeing factories and more than 2000 textile factories. Here, five pilot sites participated in water stewardship trainings and have invested in cleaner technology, leading to further significant results: the five pilot sites reduced their COD with 38.09 tons in just one year, accounting for around 3 percent of the park’s annual COD discharge.

“Under the guidance of experts from the WWF Water Stewardship Shengze IP pilot project, we have improved processes from four aspects; pollution control, energy saving, equipment and management. Through the project, our managers have deepened their knowledge on sustainability and thereby improved the site’s concept for sustainability development”, said a manager in one of the pilot sites in Shengze IP.

Next steps will now be to take the learnings from the industrial park program and share with participants during future industrial park trainings.

*COD is a measure of water and wastewater quality

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