Innovative impulses reducing the water footprint of the global cotton-textile industry towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals


Cotton textile products are largely responsible for German imports of virtual water from semiarid countries. The water footprint has widely been accepted as an indicator to assess the water efficiency of the cotton-textile production process, despite several methodological shortcomings and its applicability as indicator towards reaching the UN-Sustainable Development Goals (UN-SDGs) being unclear. Methodologically, green (rain), blue (surface and groundwater), and grey (wastewater-based) footprints are calculated. According to the new international standard ISO 14046:2014, this volumetric analysis (14.367 L/kg cotton textile) should be supplemented by an extended impact assessment with respect to water scarcity, quality and impairment of concurrent usages (drinking water, food production, etc.). Hence, textile exporting countries supported by the EU under the GSP+ status (Generalized System of Preference) are currently striving for strategies to increase the sustainability of the cottontextile industry.

In case studies and demonstration projects in Pakistan, a main supplier of the German demand for textiles, the aim of this joint R&D project is to contribute to sustainable water resources management

  1. by advancing the water footprint concept to become a meaningful regional steering instrument for national decision makers, manufacturers, retailers, and consumers alike (work package WP1),
  2. by surveying the current state of water efficiency, water quality, and concurrent usages in Pakistan using a combination of satellite remote sensing, field-site studies, hydrologic and hydraulic modelling, company surveys, and river quality monitoring (WP2&3),
  3. by demonstrating efficient technologies along the cotton-textile value chain, including efficient cotton irrigation, textile machinery, dyes and process chemicals, suitable wastewater treatment processes, and analytical instruments for water pollution monitoring (WP4&5),
  4. by assessing strategies towards reaching the UN-Sustainable Development Goals (WP6),
  5. by supporting decision makers with roadmaps, documentary videos, internet-based footprint tools, providing the base for a Water-Footprint Textile Label rising consumers´ awareness for sustainable consumption (WP7).