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SÃO PAULO – A staggering 5,196 litres of water are used in the lifecycle of a pair of jeans according to the most comprehensive study of its kind which measured water consumption from cotton cultivation to the end consumer. The project, led by Brazilian denim specialist Vicunha, analysed the type of water used and divided it into different stages of the production lifecycle. Cotton cultivation was by far the most water-intensive, with 4,247 litres of water used for cotton planting, 127 litres for weaving, 362 litres during washing and manufacturing and 460 litres in household washes by the end consumer. The findings raise some searching questions, particularly given the ongoing drought being experienced in India at present, the world’s largest cotton growing country. The one positive of the project was that Vicunha uses Brazilian cotton where an estimated 92 per cent of water consumed during the cultivation process comes from rainwater.

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The project was carried out in collaboration with Ecoera, H2O-Company and Initiativa Verde. It measured the ‘Green Footprint’ (the rainwater volume contained in plants and soil in agricultural processes throughout the production chain), the ‘Blue Footprint’ (the water volume sourced from freshwater, surface or groundwater sources that was not returned to the reservoir from which it is drawn), and the ‘Grey Footprint’ (the amount of freshwater that nature needs to dilute the wastewater returned to the environment after the processes).

Excluded from the evaluation were values for the recirculation/recovery of water used in daily laundry, which may vary depending on the wastewater treatment in different regions.

“We conducted this project in Brazil and measured the water consumption over the entire lifecycle of a pair of jeans. The data was accurate and provided exact figures that allowed us to define new goals for our production chain,” explained Deborah Turner, marketing manager of Vicunha.

“The most positive aspect for Vicunha is the fact that we use Brazilian cotton and 92 per cent of the water consumed during the cultivation process comes from rainwater. No other country even comes close and this result gives us a big boost in the ranking.”

The green water calculation was one of the most important and referred mainly to the agricultural processes. During the planting process, for example, it was found that the green footprint makes up 50 per cent of the water consumption. As 92 per cent of the water used in the Brazilian cotton harvest is rainwater, this consumption does not have any environmental impact.

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