The International Finance Corporation (IFC) is scaling up its China Water Program, which works to promote water efficiency within the country’s textile supply chain, after saving 9m tonnes of water in the first two years.

The Chinese textile industry produces around half of the world’s textiles, with dyeing and printing operations being incredibly water and energy intensive, using up to 200 tonnes of water per tonne of fabric. In addition to this, the country's textile supply chain has a large waste water pollution load.

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

Since launching the China Water Program in 2013, which includes suppliers of global companies such as Primark, the country's textile industry has saved 9m tonnes of water and avoided 110,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas annually.

In partnership with the Netherlands Ministry of Economic Affairs, the Netherlands Enterprise Agency RVO, and the Hungarian Export-Import Bank, the project has also saved $18m in operating costs every year due to reduced resource use, and facilitated US$50m in capital investment.

The IFC says it is scaling up the programme 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).

According to the IFC, the sector-level initiative provided building capacity for 100 textile mills in Shaoxing and Guangzhou. Some 33 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," says IFC principal operations officer Navneet Chadha. "Collective industry action is necessary to make water management interventions really sustainable and lead to market transformation."