September 3, 2021
This year, Gap Inc. made a splash at SIWI World Water Week to raise the bar on corporate water leadership and catalyze positive water impact—for people and communities. Water connects us all, and Gap Inc. sees a meaningful opportunity to enrich communities through strategic water stewardship practices and to support water resilience in communities touched by the apparel industry. We highlighted the role water can have to support our Power Plan business strategy, how we are working with cotton farmers to build their resilience to water and climate impacts while supporting women with water access; and how our focus on women as change agents for water strengthens women’s economic empowerment. The USAID Gap Inc. Women + Water Alliance was a throughline across themes: our goal to empower 2 million people to improve their access to water and sanitation by 2023 not only helps drive community water resilience, but it will help build the resilience of our business.
Here is an inspiring summary of learnings from World Water Week and how we are making a difference through water:
Water Stewardship to Water Strategy: Corporate Value Creation and Impact
- Key Takeaway: Corporate water leaders across industries, including AB InBev, former Microsoft, and WWF discussed with Water Foundry how water should not only be seen as a risk to business, but as an opportunity to drive strategic value. We can use water constraints as a catalyst for creativity and innovation to create value for business. By embedding water strategy into business strategy, companies can leverage a comparative advantage to create water impact not only operations and supply chain, but also through employees and customers who want to work and shop along their values, and through innovations and partnerships that drive meaningful impact.
- How Gap Inc. is creating strategic business value through water: Here at Gap Inc, we’re exploring customer engagement, leveraging meaningful partnerships such as the USAID Gap Inc Women + Water Alliance for community enrichment along the value chain, and launching a partnership with our manufacturing partner Arvind Ltd to catalyze and open-source new innovative approaches to improving water use in apparel manufacturing. We cannot solve our shared water challenges alone, which is why we leverage innovative partnerships with stakeholders. Connecting the dots between solutions for the benefit of our shared communities and planet will enable a boomerang effect to come back and positively impact the business itself!
Business Case for Building Community Resilience in Corporate Value Chains
- Key Takeaway: As companies shift their perspective from water stewardship and WASH as a CSR issue, to instead see water as a lever business continuity, there’s an opportunity to take a holistic, ecosystem approach to manage water within both the manufacturing and community realms. Strong business relies on strong communities. When it comes to community resilience in cotton-growing and textile-manufacturing communities, water is a cornerstone. By focusing on women as change agents and leveraging collective action, we can create sustainable and scalable solutions for addressing water challenges along corporate value chains.
- How the USAID Gap Inc. Women + Water Alliance builds community water resilience: Through this public private partnership, we’re working with communities in India where cotton is grown, and textiles are manufactured. We’re taking a collective action approach with our nonprofit partners CARE, WaterAid, Water.org, and Institute for Sustainable Communities—all with a focus on women as change-makers who are advancing their own WASH-related needs. Each partner’s approach reinforces each other's impact, but each use a different lever to create change in this work to empower women as water champions in their communities.
Water, Climate, Cotton: Re-envisioning an Inclusive, Sustainable Textile Value Chain
- Key Takeaway: Climate change and water stress are compounding each other, posing significant risks to both the cotton supply and the livelihoods and resilience of farming communities that are essential for the global apparel industry.
- How Gap Inc. is pursuing solutions to the impacts on cotton from climate and water: Gap Inc. has reframed the challenge as a business opportunity and is pursuing solutions in two main areas: through raw materials sourcing and partnerships. Gap Inc. has a goal to use 100% sustainable cotton by 2025. This includes organic, recycled, and Better Cotton Initiative cotton. This goal incentivizes us to design product that uses these types of cotton that have a more beneficial water impact. Our strategic partnerships approach includes the USAID Gap Inc. Women + Water Alliance and the Water Resilience Coalition (WRC) with like-minded companies looking to create positive water impact through collective action in priority water basins.
Water: The final frontier for women’s economic empowerment
- Key Takeaway: The impact of access to household water and sanitation for women and girls is well-understood in terms of health, safety and education. The connection, however, between water access and income remains overlooked. An implied but less discussed component of water and sanitation is the direct connection between household water access and a woman’s ability to realize her full earning potential.
- How Gap Inc. is advancing women’s economic empowerment through water: Gap Inc. understands the direct linkage of access to water (both at household and workplace) and women’s economic empowerment. Time spent collecting water or finding a place to go accounts for billions of dollars in lost economic opportunities (Water.org). Through USAID Gap Inc. Women + Water Alliance we are committed to empower 2 million people to improve their access to water and sanitation—a goal that will enable us to reach 1 million women. In the communities where the W+W Alliance is working; we estimate that households are missing out on approximately 9% of monthly income potential due to a lack of access to water and sanitation and spend on average 1.5 hours/day fetching water. We are catalyzing and training women as change agents in the communities, enabling availability of Water micro loans, supporting Government water initiatives, and promoting water efficient agricultural (cotton) practices. To date, we have trained more than 100,000 women on Gap Inc. P.A.C.E. program and catalyzed more than $ 7 million for water and sanitation financing.
Catalysing Water Stewardship in Supply Chains
- Key Takeaway: Corporate water stewardship is a process—not a static state—that recognizes not only a corporations’ use of water, but the related needs of surrounding environment and communities. The Alliance for Water Stewardship is a framework that offers a verified certification on water stewardship, uniquely connecting the dots between inside the fence water use and operations with the broader water basin context. It also uniquely connects both the nature and people elements of water: looking at the volumetric flows as well as the fundamental needs of people for drinking water.
- How Gap Inc. sees opportunities for water stewardship: At Gap Inc., we see it as an opportunity for engaging manufacturing suppliers on water stewardship to account for not only their individual use of water within the walls of their operations but also the needs of their surrounding communities and environment. This in turn helps to not only mitigate water risk, but also builds resilience in local water basins for our facility partner, local communities and environment, and ultimately for Gap Inc.’s business —all of which are very important for us as a values-driven company. Taking a water stewardship approach can also communicate the strength of our business to investors, suppliers, employees and customers.