Gap Inc. aims to improve long-term, sustained access to clean drinking water and sanitation in communities touched by the apparel industry. We recognize that water resiliency and women’s empowerment are inextricably linked, as women in many of our sourcing countries face a disproportionate burden of managing household water needs and often need to walk miles to collect water every day. Our Water Access initiatives catalyze women as active participants and leaders in advancing locally driven improvements to water access, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) in their communities.
This journey for Gap Inc. began with a pioneering global development partnership, the USAID Gap Inc. Women + Water Alliance. Between 2017-2023, the Women + Water Alliance empowered more than 2.4 million people in India to improve their access to clean water and sanitation. Looking forward, the learnings from the Alliance will inform a new collective action initiative supported by the Water Resilience Coalition: the Women + Water Collaborative. We will also leverage innovative financing by investing in WaterEquity’s Global Access Fund IV, which will support financial institutions and enterprises in emerging markets to scale their water and sanitation lending activities, such as loans that enable low-income and marginalized customers to install household water and sanitation solutions.
It is through collective action partnerships such as these—with leading nonprofits, institutions at the global, national, and local levels, private sector companies, and community stakeholders—that we aim to empower 5 million people with sustained and equitable access to climate-resilient WASH services by 2030.
Gap Inc. will strive to lessen our water footprint by partnering with suppliers to reduce freshwater1 use in apparel manufacturing processes and by prioritizing efficiency in Gap Inc.’s owned and operated facilities.
Water stress is a highly localized issue, so Gap Inc. is working with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to identify where to prioritize action, using tools like the WWF’s Water Risk Filter, and developing guidance to aid suppliers in high water-stressed regions in setting context-based water targets.
To progress towards those water reduction targets, Gap Inc. will continue to work with suppliers and partners to implement water efficiency improvements through our work with the Apparel Impact Institute (Aii); reduce harmful chemicals and manage wastewater responsibly; expand the use of programs like Washwell that reduce water use in garment finishing by at least 20% compared to conventional wash methods; and help reduce dependency on freshwater by supporting adoption of innovative water treatment and recycled water solutions. Going further, Gap Inc. will help elevate water management across the apparel industry through a new water innovation center, which will launch in 2023 in partnership with India-based supplier Arvind Limited to showcase water reduction best practices and develop open source new technologies and solutions.
Our resource efficiency and manufacturing work is driven by two Gap Inc.-led programs:
- Water Quality Program (WQP): Since 2004, we have actively monitored and improved wastewater quality and chemicals management at denim laundries. We are working to expand our Water Quality Program to all Tier 1 wet processing facilities by 2024.
- Mill Sustainability Program: All strategic mills are required to participate in our Mill Sustainability Program, which establishes clear environmental standards, increases transparency, drives innovation and aligns our approach with industry
The Water Quality Program and the Mill Sustainability Program address water impacts in manufacturing through:
- Environmental Management & Performance: As a founding member of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (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) to collect data from Tier 1 and Tier 2 supplier self-assessments. Increasingly, these self-assessments are verified by a third party. For more information on our Higg FEM responses, please see our SASB Index.
- Wastewater and Chemicals Management: We have adopted the ZDHC Manufacturing Restricted Substances List (MRSL) and the ZDHC Wastewater Guidelines. Facilities that participate in our Water Quality Program or our Mill Sustainability Program are required to test their wastewater and meet a minimum performance standard, as well as register for and use an accepted chemicals management platform to track and share chemical inventory information with us.
Our brands are reducing water impacts at the product level through:
- Washwell™: This program reduces the water used in garment dyeing and finishing by at least 20 percent compared to conventional methods. Laundries involved in production of Washwell™ styles are also required to participate in our Water Quality Program. Since its 2016 launch by Gap brand, Washwell™ has been adopted by Athleta, Old Navy and Banana Republic.
- Resources for designers: Resources like our Preferred Fibers Toolkit help employees expand the use of sustainable raw materials with a positive water impact, and we connect our design decisions with manufacturing improvements and innovative dye techniques, enabling us to save water in our supply chain while educating our consumers.
(1) Freshwater includes ground, surface, municipal and rainwater used in Gap Inc. manufacturing processes