Water Scarcity
How your trainers are depleting water supplies

The consequences of climate change are evident and adverse. We’ve sweated and scorched through record-high temperatures this summer. The United Kingdom recorded the driest July this year since 19531. The situation is not localised, from China to California global water supplies are vulnerable. Power shortages are rampant in China as many provinces enter a yellow warning for drought with sweltering temperatures drying up the Yangtze River2

Picture yourself stranded on a sun-baked desert island, your only sustenance a small bottle of water. 250ml, that is all you have. Undoubtedly every last drop will be rationed, savoured and conserved. Now imagine having 10,000 bottles of fresh water. Would you trade this splendorous bounty for a mere t-shirt? This is the vast volume of water needed to make just one piece of clothing. 

The fashion industry is expending copious amounts of water, around 79 trillion litres a year3. One of the world’s largest apparel manufacturers outsources production to 520 manufacturing vendors. The principal resource consumption occurs during the wet-processing stage. A single wet processing vendor uses, 8.83 litres of water per dollar of commodities produced4. This means merely the dyeing process, carried out by one factory for a single pair of trainers requires an entire paddling pool worth of water. That’s 500 litres!

Image showing the water consumption data for an outsource apparel manufacturer4.

Fortunately, there is still promise for the apparel industry. The Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures has outlined a strategy to tackle business provoked nature impacts. This integrates a four-step impact pathway5

1) Identify impact drivers

2) Quantify the impact on nature

3) Understand the change occurring to natural services.

4) Comprehend the resulting risks and opportunities on surrounding ecosystems. 

The impact pathway for the fashion industry is considered below: 

A sustainable metamorphosis is long-overdue for the textile industry. Water is integral to sustainable development goals, and already 60% of global companies have experienced the impacts of water shortages6. This giant clothing producer is developing an innovative waterless dyeing method, which will potentially reduce water consumption by 90% 7. The entire industry needs to emulate similar sustainable approaches. More so, when you next purchase a garment stop to consider the environmental cost attached to it.


1. Press Office. Driest July in England since 1935 [Internet]. Met Office. 2018. Available from: https://www.metoffice.gov.uk/about-us/press-office/news/weather-and-climate/2022/driest-july-in-england-since-1935

2. Newburger E. China issues first national drought emergency amid scorching temperatures [Internet]. CNBC. 2022 [cited 2022 Aug 30]. Available from: https://www.cnbc.com/2022/08/19/china-issues-first-national-drought-emergency-scorching-temperatures-.html

3. Bailey K, Basu A, Sharma S. The Environmental Impacts of Fast Fashion on Water Quality: A Systematic Review. Water [Internet]. 2022 Jan 1;14(7):1073. Available from: https://www.mdpi.com/2073-4441/14/7/1073/htm

4. IPEN. IPEN | A Toxics-Free Future [Internet]. ipen.org. Available from: https://ipen.org

5. Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures. E3 and E4: Dependency and impact analysis» TNFD [Internet]. TNFD. Available from: https://framework.tnfd.global/the-leap-nature-risk-assessment-process/evaluate/dependency-and-impact-analysis/

6. Gould H. 10 things you need to know about water impacts of the fashion industry. The Guardian [Internet]. 2014 Sep 4; Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/sustainable-fashion-blog/2014/sep/04/10-things-to-know-water-impact-fashion-industry

7. Waterless dyeing technology for adidas [Internet]. www.knittingindustry.com. 2022 [cited 2022 Aug 30]. Available from: https://www.knittingindustry.com/waterless-dyeing-technology-for-adidas/

Author: Rania Faruq Suleman Kali