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Flooring Sustainably

Sustainability consultant Alan Best discusses what is being done to reduce widespread water pollution and to improve waste water treatment:

THE conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), held by the UN in Brazil in 2012, identified and prioritised key projects to help the world reduce poverty, advance social equity and ensure environmental protection on an ever more crowded planet.
One key outcome was a commitment to significantly reduce water pollution and improve wastewater treatment. Safe drinking water and sanitation is now recognised as a human right by the UN, but an increasingly competitive world is beginning to run short of precious unpolluted water resources.
Last year I attended World Water Week in Stockholm, invited by Eureau, the European Water Services Federation to talk about the impacts on water from carpet production. Carpet manufacturing is, of course, part of the textile industry, one of the world’s largest water polluters, second only to agriculture.
The World Bank estimates that almost 20% of global industrial water pollution is from the treatment and dyeing of textiles, hence the interest in what we manufacturers are doing about it. For example, some 72 toxic chemicals reach global water supplies from textile dyeing and many of these chemicals cannot be filtered or removed.
I was speaking alongside a representative from H & M, the major clothing chain, who talked about initiatives of her company and other key players in the textile and footwear manufacturing and retailing industry to improve the situation.
H & M is part of an organisation called ZDHC (Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals), a group with a shared commitment to help lead their part of the textile industry towards zero hazardous discharges by 2020.
Members include Marks and Spencer, C & A, Nike, Adidas and Levi Strauss and they are heavily investing time and resource into achieve their ambitious objectives. This hugely demanding project involves six separate working groups who are pooling all necessary strands to make it happen.
The project aims to influence their whole supply chain including chemicals and dye manufacturers as well as governments and regulatory bodies, academia and specialists in water treatment in advanced countries and others who have shown hesitant commitment to anything that might impede economic growth.
This action is partly driven by the need to protect their global brands from increasingly widespread negative reporting of pollution and associated environmental and health problems via the press, internet and social media and organisations such as Greenpeace.
Recently, for example, a river in Mexico turned blue from dye pollution. The source was found to be a factory manufacturing a major jeans brand . This was publicised around the world as an example of bad practice by global corporations.
ZDHC takes the view that it is all very well having a few companies performing well in these areas, but it is far better if the clothing textile and footwear industry as a whole work together so that the industry can change negative perceptions and be seen as socially and environmentally responsible and a benefit to communities. Their enormous combined buying power will ensure that the supply chain works with them.

Alan Best is a Sustainability Consultant who works with a number of construction related industries specialising in Environmental Certification, substitution of hazardous chemicals and waste reduction.
Alan is co-author of the Croner ‘Essential Guide to REACH’ and a member of the Flooring Sustainability Partnership and represents Shaw Industries Inc on this and other international bodies.

This article has been reproduced from the Contract Flooring Journal. You can find them at