Mills + Laundries

Improving environmental practices and benefitting communities


We engage with our supply chain to address the most important environmental impacts related to making our clothes  -- water, chemicals and energy during the dyeing and finishing process. Mills demonstrate how environmental practices carry a direct link to people’s health and well-being. Wastewater must be treated before being returned to the surrounding environment to ensure that both ecosystems and nearby communities are protected. Laundries, especially for denim, also require a great deal of water and pose pollution risks.

Gap Inc. is working with fabric mills and laundries to improve practices, and leveraging industry partnerships across our supply chain to reduce water and chemicals use. In early 2020, we achieved our ambitious goal to conserve 10 billion liters of water by the end of 2020 through sustainable manufacturing practices and innovative partnerships. These potential water savings are the equivalent volume of the drinking water needs for 5 billion people for one day.

Our Mill Sustainability Program establishes clear environmental standards for fabric mills to protect people and communities.

Our primary strategy to achieve our goal is to enhance our engagement with the mills and laundries in our supply chain and use water-saving methods in the production of our clothing, and through our brands and our expansion of Washwell™ and other programs, we have helped connect our design decisions with manufacturing improvements. We also work with a variety of industry partnerships to improve water impacts. In 2019 alone, we achieved 3.83 million liters of water savings—more than double the savings we saw in 2018.

We encourage and support our suppliers in conducting environmental footprint assessments, including water use, using the Sustainable Apparel Coalition's (SAC) Higg Index. We are also actively monitoring and helping improve wastewater quality at denim laundries through our Water Quality Program (WQP), which has been a requirement for over 15 years. In accordance with WQP, all supplier denim laundries must meet or exceed legal effluent discharge requirements.

Since 2015, we’ve been working closely with our suppliers to share important benchmarking data showing how their environmental performance compares to competitors and peers. With a dashboard, we provide details, by country and factory, on water consumption and energy use—so that we can help our suppliers identify opportunities for improvements.


  • Our Mill Sustainability Program began through pilots in 2013 and became a strategic initiative in 2018 to drive transparency, reduce compliance risks and contribute to our corporate sustainability goals. 
  • This program reduces water and electricity use, as well as wastewater discharge and hazardous chemicals. 
  • We also partner with several industry initiatives, including Clean by Design and the Apparel Impact Institute, the Partnership for Cleaner Textile program, and other manufacturing initiatives and groups such as ZDHC and the Sustainable Apparel Coalition. 

How We’re Saving 8 Million Liters of Water a Day: Using Reclaimed Wastewater at a Denim Mill in India

Partnership with Arvind Limited

Part of how we are making such significant gains in water reduction is through a partnership we formed with Arvind Limited and its development of an innovative water-treatment facility. Instead of freshwater, Arvind’s denim mill uses reclaimed wastewater from the city of Ahmedabad. 

By the end of 2020, this facility is projected to save 2 billion liters of freshwater, helping to preserve the local community’s vital resource. It will also support sustainability more broadly by using a chemical-free treatment method to clean domestic wastewater drawn from the surrounding community. Moreover, this sustainable approach will build business resilience for Arvind, Gap Inc. and other brands that source from the mill. As climate change and population growth contribute to water scarcity in countries like India—where 54% of the population faces high to extremely high water risk—the apparel sector must create solutions that reduce impacts on freshwater resources.  

Looking ahead, we are working with Arvind to build an innovation center that will promote the adoption of proven techniques and technologies to reduce water use in the textile-manufacturing industry. The 18,000-square-foot space will feature installations showcasing water-management best practices and recycling technologies; a library, lab and classroom; and conference spaces for apparel companies, manufacturing suppliers and vendors, and sustainability experts to advance water stewardship across the apparel sector.

Mill Sustainability Program

Our Mill Sustainability Program began through pilots in 2013, and in 2018 became a strategic initiative, with the purpose of driving transparency and innovation while reducing compliance risks and contributing to our corporate sustainability goals. By leveraging partnerships, we can analyze and improve the environmental performance of our supply chain. Our suppliers’ involvement is key to our ability to calculate our energy, greenhouse gas and water baselines, which support progress toward our new science-based target for our Scope 3 GHG emissions and help us mitigate water risks. The program is also helping drive improvements in social performance at mills.

We leverage three key industry-wide efforts to support our Mill Sustainability Program:

Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC): As a founding member of the SAC, we use the Higg Index to evaluate suppliers’ environmental performance and engage them to meet our goals. Since 2017, we have expanded our use of the Higg Facility Environmental Module (FEM) 3.0 to collect data from mills’ self-assessments. Increasingly, these self-assessments are verified by a third party. In 2019, over 90 percent of our supplying mills completed the Higg FEM 3.0. We now ask our strategic mills, which represent over 75 percent of our total business, to complete the Higg FEM 3.0 annually.

Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals (ZDHC): We joined ZDHC’s Roadmap to Zero commitment in 2014 to work toward the elimination of hazardous chemicals in our supply chain. We integrated ZDHC Roadmap to Zero Programme tools and resources, such as the Manufacturing Restricted Substances List (MRSL) and Wastewater Guidelines, into our Mill Sustainability Program. Since 2018, we have required our strategic mills to test their wastewater twice a year and publish the results through the ZDHC Gateway. In 2019, we asked our mills with wet-processing capabilities to register for a chemicals-management platform to better track their ZDHC performance.

Social & Labor Convergence Program (SLCP): As a signatory to this collaboration among apparel and footwear brands, retailers, industry groups and civil society organizations, we continue to work with our strategic mills in key geographies to use the SLCP social and labor assessment. We support the shared data-collection tool that can assess the social and labor performance of manufacturing facilities across the apparel and footwear supply chain. In 2019, 28 mills participated in the SLCP pilot.

Water Quality Program for Laundries

Our partnerships with suppliers support our water goal through improvements in resource efficiency, water quality and overall mill sustainability. We are also actively monitoring and helping to improve wastewater quality at denim laundries through our Water Quality Program (WQP), which has been a requirement for over 15 years. All of the denim laundries from which we source have achieved our WQP standard, which requires compliance with ZDHC Wastewater Guidelines. 

In addition to our Mill Sustainability Program, we are working to improve water impacts by partnering with industry collaborations.

Resource Efficiency Programs

Through our resource-efficiency programs, we collaborate with strategic mills and laundries to significantly reduce their water impacts. The facilities saw average water-use reductions of 20 percent through their implemented efficiency programs. As many water issues are based on local context and needs, we have mapped all preferred facilities, representing 85 percent of our business, against the World Resources Institute’s (WRI’s) Aqueduct Water Risk Atlas to help prioritize areas of focus and drive countrywide or basin-specific approaches. 

Our resource-efficiency efforts over the years comprise the following programs:

Clean by Design + Apparel Impact Institute: We have collaborated with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) on its Clean by Design program since 2014. In 2018, we helped create the program’s new home: the Apparel Impact Institute (Aii). Today, Aii is an important platform for cross-brand collaboration to support facilities in improving their operational efficiency and reducing their water, energy and chemicals use. The following programs were completed in 2019 and future work will be transitioned and streamlined under the Aii umbrella:

  • China Mill Efficiency Program

  • Taiwan Mill Efficiency Program

  • Race to the Top (Vietnam)

In 2019, we participated in the creation of the Clean by Design Plus program in China, which works with mills that have graduated from the original program and want to capture additional, deeper opportunities for operational efficiency and sustainability. This program not only focuses on energy and water reductions, but also establishes an in-house program to enhance continual improvement and develop long-range GHG- and water-reduction goals. Aii programming also expanded to India with a new pilot focused on water and chemistry efficiency. 

Partnership for Cleaner Textile (PaCT): In Bangladesh and Pakistan, we work with PaCT to improve the environmental performance of the textile wet-processing sector. In 2019, we continued phase two of the PaCT Bangladesh program, which culminated in early 2020. PaCT Pakistan was one of the first industrywide programs in that country at its 2018 launch, and we are proud of the impacts realized in 2019.  

China Mill Efficiency Program: We developed our own Mill Efficiency Program in China in 2017, in which we partnered with a Chinese environmental engineering firm in a year- long assessment of energy and water- savings opportunities at six mill facilities. Together, these facilities achieved more than 1.4 billion liters of water savings and more than 37,000 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per year. We are expanding the program with additional facilities in 2019.

India Water Partnership: In India, we embarked on a partnership in 2017 and 2018 with cKinetics, 11 mills and three denim laundries that is saving an estimated 1.2 billion liters of water annually, as well as more than 21,000 tons of carbon-dioxide equivalent per year. The program worked on the ground with our facilities to identify cost-effective as well as ambitious opportunities to improve efficiency. Over the course of a year and a half, the facilities implemented 103 projects, ranging from recovery and reuse of process water, replacement of boilers and dyeing machines to more efficient models, and overall process optimization. The work resulted in the publication of a best practices handbook that our teams can use with other wet processing units to encourage improvements.

Race to the Top: In Vietnam, our largest sourcing country, we partner with IDH-led Race to the Top to work with other global apparel and footwear brands, government, local industry and civil society on programs that support sustainability, cost savings and opportunities for innovation in our sector. In 2018, we signed on an additional two mills and three laundries, completing an on-site assessment for each that demonstrate improvement opportunities. These facilities are currently implementing water and energy improvement projects currently and will validate their savings in 2019.

Taiwan Mill Efficiency Program: In Taiwan, we started a new mill efficiency program in 2018 as an extension of our engagement with Clean by Design in China. We completed on-site assessments of four mills that joined the program, and we plan to calculate water-improvement results in 2019, which we estimate may reach over 300 million liters. We also estimate potential GHG reductions of over 7,000 tons.

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