The first step to improving a process is understanding it.
Brazil-based denim mill Vicunha recently teamed with sustainability experts Ecoera to spearhead The Vicunha Water Footprint, a project to determine exactly how much water is used to make a pair of jeans from cotton cultivation to the end consumer.
From planting to household washes, Vicunha found that 5,196 liters of water are consumed during the lifecycle of a pair of jeans. And the agricultural stage of denim manufacturing revealed itself to be the most water intensive, consuming 4,247 liters for planting.
The study broke this down further by examining how much water from three different sources is used for planting: rain water contained in plants and soil; water derived from freshwater, surface or groundwater sources; and fresh water used to dilute waste water that is returned to the environment after the process.
Here, Brazil’s wet climate proved to be beneficial. Vicunha stated that up to 50 percent of water is derived from rain water contained in plants and soil, noting that this consumption doesn’t have any environmental impact.
“The most positive aspect for Vicunha is the fact that we use Brazilian cotton and 92 percent of the water consumed during the cultivation process comes from rainwater,” said Deborah Turner, Vicunha Europe marketing manager. “No other country even comes close and this result gives us a big boost in the ranking.”
Household washes followed with 460 liters. The weaving stage required the least, with 127 liters of water.
By evaluating the current process, Vicunha said it’s able to further its commitment to sustainable manufacturing. In January, the mill released a line of denim made with pre-consumer denim fabric that saves up to 95 percent of water and up to 90 percent on chemicals.
As as a mill located in a region of Brazil with an extreme water shortage, Marcel Imaizumi, Vicunha production director, said identifying areas for improvement is key.
“With this project, we have created a unique tool,” he said. “By analyzing the results, we have further defined and developed our goals to increase water efficiency.”