Welspun India'a zero fresh water manufacturing plant in in the Kutch region of Gujarat.
Textile production uses an enormous amount of water. At 93 billion cubic meters each year, that’s 4 percent of all freshwater utilized worldwide. From the farm to the manufacturing plant, water is an integral part of the textile industry. If not managed responsibly, this can cause scarcity and competition for limited resources in regions where textiles are produced.
Welspun India, a home textiles supplier for numerous brands on the international market, has taken an innovative approach. As a result, it uses zero fresh water during the manufacturing process. And while the same method could be utilized by more manufacturers worldwide, it’s unlikely to be emulated on a large scale so long as quarterly earnings take precedence over long-term sustainability.
“You might say that you created a sustainable product, but it's not a sustainable product when you create it in a facility which is not sustainable,” Dipali Goenka, CEO of Welspun India, told TriplePundit.
The road to freshwater-free textile manufacturing began in 2003 with the need to get factories up and running in an area that had been devastated by an earthquake years earlier. Supporting the community was also imperative to Welspun's operation in the Kutch region of Gujarat. “Organizations cannot work in isolation, they need … everybody together,” Goenka said. “So that's what we did. We built up communities, setting up schools there, empowering women.”
Welspun also recognized that it couldn’t monopolize the water supply in such an arid region. “Textiles are a big guzzler of water,” she explained. “There's one river that feeds that area." The Narmada River is known as a "lifeline" for the Indian states of Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, stretching more than 800 miles and providing water to hundreds of communities. "We realized as, an organization, we had a huge responsibility," Goenka said. "If we are going to guzzle that much water and the communities will go without water, how fair is that?”
In order to solve the water problem, the company built a sewage treatment plant to process wastewater from three towns in the Kutch region. On top of the potable water that comes out of it, the municipalities are also paid a commission. It’s a win-win situation for the company, local communities and the region’s farmers.
“We can take the sewage from the communities and recycle it and use it back into our operation, so we don't use a drop of fresh water in our operations,” Goenka said. “We are really proud of it.”
It’s a refreshing perspective that is a product of Welspun’s environmental, social and governance (ESG) policy to become an agent of change. And the stance is going strong since, keeping pace with the company’s growth. “The capacities that we have today, the magnitude is huge,” Goenka explained, adding that the company makes 1 out of every 5 towels in the U.S.
While the tactic sounds like a simple way for manufacturers to make a huge difference in developing regions where wastewater treatment is lacking or insufficient, it also takes a substantial amount of purpose to put the future well-being of a community over immediate profit. And that’s something too many businesses still aren’t willing to do.
“It's a very heavy investment,” Goenka said, pointing to the need for a change in mindset. “Everybody has to look at becoming agents of change.” Instead of doing business for the sake of business itself, she wants to encourage companies to consider everyone involved and take the bigger picture into account.
Beyond the water treatment plant, Welspun also supports cotton farmers through teams and artificial intelligence (AI) dedicated to improving the sustainability of their agricultural practices. It also promotes certification with groups like the Better Cotton Initiative. “Better Cotton Initiative uses far lesser water than what a regular cotton crop would use,” she explained.
The company’s ESG initiative also seeks to uplift women in the community by providing village work centers where they can earn an income and gain financial literacy. Another initiative helps women make use of their backyards for income. “We help them learn how to use those … for kitchen gardens where they can sell and earn their livelihoods as well,” Goenka said, explaining that more than 45,000 women have been impacted through the company’s efforts.
“In the communities, we have two schools as well. But we also are reaching out to communities and impacting around 100,000 children,” she said, noting that Welspun reaches out with digital education as a part of its efforts.
Welspun India is demonstrating its dedication to ESG by focusing on the community as a whole. And where many corporations would have no problem using up scarce water resources to the detriment of the local people and farmers, the company’s refreshing perspective on corporate responsibility and long-term outcomes versus short-term profits has instead benefited those stakeholders.
Image courtesy of Welspun India
Riya Anne Polcastro is an author, photographer and adventurer based out of the Pacific Northwest. She enjoys writing just about anything, from gritty fiction to business and environmental issues. She is especially interested in how sustainability can be harnessed to encourage economic and environmental equity between the Global South and North. One day she hopes to travel the world with nothing but a backpack and her trusty laptop.