Finding H2OPE in water savings

Water is at the core of sustainable development, healthy ecoystems and human survival

United Nations

By 2025, it is estimated that nearly 4.5 billion people will be affected by water-scarcity. This includes everyone. From Fijians to Britons, the crisis is blind to colour, wealth, creed or location.

A stark reminder of this came in late 2019 in one of the world’s most wealthy countries.

The Australian bushfires during the summer of 2019/20, burning over 11 million hectares or approximately 50% more land than the 2019 fires in the Amazon, caught the entire world’s attention. They were a clear reminder of how water-scarcity (Australia had its hottest year in 2019) was not affecting far-off generations in the future but people, animals, economies and ecologies today – and doing so on an alarming and destructive scale.

The threat of water scarcity across the world begs industry to make significant changes to how it views and uses water. One of the most heavily dependent industries on water is the clothing and apparel (textile) industry.

 “We’re aware that water is one of the world’s biggest environmental priorities, so we’re making it one of our priorities, too,” says Kathmandu's Head of Product Innovation & Product Sustainability, Manu Rastogi.

The textile industry is a significant consumer of water and energy and cotton production is one of the most thirsty sectors within textiles. It takes on average 10,000 litres of water to produce one kilogram of cotton, or between 2,600 and 2,700 litres of water to produce a cotton t-shirt.

This is why we encourage our community to support our H2OPE water-saving initiatives through the clothes and gear they choose to wear.


Solution-dyed technologies

We have been able to increase our water savings from 11.5 million bottles for 2018 to 12.1 million bottles for 2019

Innovation underpins water-saving solutions in textiles, on top of increased transparency and working with partners rather than demanding them to change their practices.

‘Solution-dyeing’ (or dope dyeing) is one such innovation in which colour is added at the beginning of the fabric's production, saving water in the process. The pigment is added to the polymers before the yarn is spun as opposed to traditional dyeing where colour is applied to a fibre’s surface after it is produced, which is water-intensive. Not only is water saved, but energy use and CO2 emissions are reduced and the fabric retains its colour better as it runs through the fabric, not just on the surface.

By using more solution-dyed polyester, nylon and polypropylene, and sustainable cotton, we have been able to increase our water savings from 11.5 million bottles of water for 2018 to 12.1 million bottles for 2019. By choosing products that use solution-dyeing technology, such as our Solus Pack or products from the L-Tra travel range, you can support the growth of solution-dyed yarn in the textile industry and better outcomes for the planet.


Sustainable cotton

We tend to think of cotton as 'good' because it’s a natural material and polyester as 'bad' because it’s made from petrochemicals. But the Higg Materials Sustainability Index (Higg MSI), which we use to help monitor the effects of cotton in our products, rates the impact of polypro at ‘39’ and the impact of conventional cotton at ‘98’ (a lower score equals lower impact). A lot of this comes down to the amount of water cotton requires in its production and processing.

This is why we have pursued major shifts in the type of cotton we source and where/how it is produced. We have spent the past five years transitioning all of our cotton use to sustainable cotton. Today, 100% of our products made with cotton are made with sustainable cotton.

Because of cotton’s heavy impact on water resources, the ideal solution is to use recycled cotton, which takes pre-consumer off-cuts from factory floors to create yarn, skipping those water-intensive growing and dyeing processes. Unfortunately, this can’t make up the bulk of our cotton due to the scale of demand for cotton. This is why, on top of recycled and organic cotton, the majority of our cotton is sourced through the Better Cotton Initiative.

The BCI delivers on-the-ground training that helps educate BCI Farmers about water usage, such as managing soil moisture, water quality and applying efficient irrigation practices.

In the 2017-18 cotton season, the BCI provided training on more sustainable farming practices to more than two million cotton farmers in 21 countries, with the production of Better Cotton increasing by 50% compared to the previous season. In the same season, BCI Farmers in India used 10% less water than comparison farmers.

Beyond its water-saving initiatives, the BCI also provides training and awareness to farmers around biodiversity, land management, gender equality, improved worker conditions, and pesticide reduction.

Read about some of their work in China, Australia and Madagascar here.


Bio-based synthetics

Our first steps in using biosynthetics as part of our water-savings goals resulted in our Earthcolours Range, which uses traceable dyes sourced from agricultural waste. Learn more about our journey with Earthcolours here >.

Today’s commercial bio-based synthetics come from renewable sugars, starches and lipids – think corn, beets, sugar cane and plant oils. In the future, there may be an opportunity to extend this to an even broader range of renewables, including algae, fungi and bacteria, which don’t compete with the food industry for land. 

“Bio-based materials will move up our preferred fibre and material portfolio,” says Manu Rastogi.

The use of natural dyes that don’t contain harmful petrochemicals means less chemical waste in the production of our clothes and less chemicals entering our waterways. Your support for these products helps to grow this industry as not only a water-saving solution in textiles but one that is traceable, transparent and carbon neutral.


Learn more about our Sustainability initiatives