Helping Chinese Textile Firms Save Water

A wastewater treatment plant in a textile industrial park in Guangdong, China © IFC


The Chinese textile industry produces around half of the world’s textiles, and plays an important role in both national and global economies. Dyeing and printing operations within the textile supply chain are water and energy intensive, using up to 200 tons of water per ton of fabric. They also have a large wastewater pollution load.  

At the same time, China experiences water scarcity and environmental degradation due to rapid economic growth and the impact of climate change. This economic expansion is unsustainable if growing water scarcity and quality issues are not addressed.

IFC launched the China Water Program in 2013 to promote industrial water efficiency and water quality by demonstrating the business case for voluntary saving of water, energy, and chemicals. The 50 demonstration projects developed as part of the program delivered impressive results in just two years. These are some of the program’s highlights:

  • Suppliers of global brands such as IKEA and Primark, as well as domestic companies participated.
  • Facilitated over $50 million in capital investment.
  • Saved $18 million in operating costs annually due to reduced resource use.
  • Saved 9 million tons water and avoided 110,000 tons of greenhouse gas annually. 

“Unlike similar textile-focused initiatives, our projects go beyond low hanging fruit,” said Rong Chen, IFC Project Leader. “These projects are more difficult to develop and finance, but have greater impact.” The team referred several projects to the Bank of Beijing, which is the first Chinese bank to include a water-efficiency component under a risk-sharing facility with IFC.  

IFC is also scaling up the program by collaborating with stakeholders beyond the textile supply chain. It recently implemented the Green Textile City Initiative together with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). This sector-level initiative provided capacity building for 100 textile mills in Shaoxing and Guangzhou. Thirty-three of the trained mills went on to develop and implement more than 200 projects on their own with substantial water and energy savings.

“In the future, we plan to work with more brands that see water as a value driver for their business and want to strategically manage this resource beyond immediate factory-level projects,” said Navneet Chadha, IFC Principal Operations Officer. “Collective industry action is necessary to make water management interventions really sustainable and lead to market transformation.”  

IFC China Water Program is delivered in partnership with the Netherlands Ministry of Economic Affairs, the Netherlands Enterprise Agency RVO, and the Hungarian Export-Import Bank.