Every product within our store has a story to tell. From the raw materials used to make our fabrics, to way in which these fabrics are processed and crafted into a finished product, each step in the lifecycle of our product has the potential to impact our planet.
Recognising the importance – and the challenge – of minimising these impacts across our supply chain, Primark’s global team of environmental specialists has long focused its efforts on working with our suppliers to proactively identify and manage the environmental impacts associated with the products we sell. With efforts spanning multiple countries and hundreds of locations, this work is by no means easy, but we continue to grow this team and the scope of our work to drive greater impact on the ground.
To support the deployment and success of our programmes, we structure our environmental programme around three approaches:
A STRONG PLAN OF ACTION: Establishing a robust environmental plan that guides the work we do and is integrated into our overarching Environmental Policy. Our key areas of focus include several core impact areas, such as responsible sourcing, climate, waste, chemistry, & water.
VALUING THE ROLE OF OUR SUPPLIERS: Creating and deploying a suite of tools and training throughout our supply chain to elevate supplier performance and improve how we do business.
ACCELERATING INDUSTRY CHANGE: Unlocking long-lasting changing through effective industry partnerships.
CREATING LONG-LASTING CHANGE: THE IMPORTANCE OF INDUSTRY PARTNERSHIPS FOR UNLOCKING CHANGE
Our environmental program covers many important impact areas. Our supply chain is large and complex. But above all, the vast majority of our supply chain – from raw materials through to product creation – is shared with many other global brands. Though we have a significant presence on the high street, we are not the only customers of the suppliers that make our products; production capacity within factories is split across many brands.
Though our scale allows us to have a strong voice within the supply chain, the reality is that brands and retailers need to work together to affect the change that we want to see. To accelerate this change, we have been heavily engaged with many organisations that create tools and voluntary requirements that elevate the performance of the global supply chain. Two such groups are the ‘ZDHC Foundation’ and the ‘Sustainable Apparel Coalition’.
The Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals (ZDHC) Foundation is a multi-stakeholder organisation that aims to transform the global textile, apparel and footwear industry by improving the way in which chemicals are used to make our products. They achieve this through a robust set of voluntary standards that eliminate the use of key hazardous chemicals from our supply chain. Importantly, they also provide robust training to improve how workers use chemicals and set strict guidelines for the wastewater discharge and air emissions coming from a factory. The ZDHC is at the centre of sustainable chemicals management within our industry, and we have been actively using the tools across our supply chain to reduce our impact.
Primark were founding members of the ZDHC in 2015 and have been active members of this organisation for many years, including several important years sitting upon the Board of Directors; a role that still continues to this day. To learn more about the work we do to elevate chemicals management, please take a look at our Environmental Performance Report (link)
The Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) is a global multi-stakeholder non-profit alliance working towards positive social and environmental transformation and change within our industry. It has developed a suite of tools, called the Higg Index, which holistically measure environmental impacts through the supply chain.
Since joining SAC in 2015, we’ve been working with our supply chain partners adopt the Higg Index tools to assess environmental impact. This is vital as it ensures our suppliers aren’t just meeting minimum environmental compliance requirements, but also working on their own program of continuous improvement across energy, water, chemical use, wastewater, air emissions and environmental management.
The roll out of the Higg Index will ensure we can clearly measure the environmental sustainability performance of our strategic suppliers.
To see a full list of all the industry partnerships that are critical to our programme, please click here.
Cutting back on chemicals
In the same way that our factories need electricity to operate, the entire global fashion industry requires chemicals. Whether it is the dyes that colour our clothes, or the detergents used to launder fabrics, they have a critical and important role to play. But, we know that chemical use must be tightly controlled to protect people and the environment and as such we’re committed to taking responsibility for the chemicals used in our supply chain. In 2014, we signed up to Greenpeace’s Detox campaign which was centred upon eliminating the use and discharge of certain chemicals in our supply chain, and since 2015 we’ve reported on our progress publicly in the Chemicals and Pollution Management section of our website.
Recognising that collective action is critical to achieve our chemistry goals and change our industry for the better, Primark became a founding member of the ZDHC Foundation in 2015, a multistakeholder organisation that aims to improve the use of chemicals within the fashion industry. Through this partnership we are actively using the ZDHC’s Manufacturing Restricted Substances List (MRSL), which determines the substances in chemicals that suppliers are not permitted to use in manufacturing our products. To support manufacturers across the supply chain, we actively endorse the use of the ZDHC Gateway; a tool which provides a supplier with a list of chemical formulations that meet the ZDHC MRSL guidelines.
Building on the importance of chemical selection within an effective chemicals management programme, it is also essential that our suppliers use these chemicals safely when inside the facility. To improve chemical management practices across our supply chain, our in-country teams work with our suppliers to provide training and tools to help collect and analyse information on their production processes. For example, we’ve worked with ADEC Innovations since 2019 to develop the CleanChain™ Chemical Module. This allows our suppliers to share detailed chemical information with our in-country teams, allowing us to track supplier compliance against the ZDHC MRSL and actively engage with factories that need more support.
Working to conserve water
We recognise that water is a valuable and essential resource and that we need to manage our water footprint carefully. Textile manufacturing depends on water at many stages, whether it’s growing cotton or dyeing materials; without access to water, the global fashion industry would not function.
If you read our approach to sustainable cotton (link to PSCP), you’ll see that one major benefit of this programme is water reduction. Cotton, being an agricultural crop, requires water to grow. We recognise that water is a resource that must be used sparingly, and this is even more so in regions where daily temperatures can exceed 38 degrees. From 2013-2019, on average we have seen a 10% drop in water consumption by farmers involved in our PSCP programme, and as we evolve this programme further, we look to reduce water consumption even more.
Mills engaged in textile dyeing and finishing typically provide fabric and yarn to brands all over the world, and with few exceptions, they require water to operate. We actively work with a number of fabric mills to reduce the amount of water they use, and to minimise potential water pollution from the use of chemicals. One example of this is the Clean by Design programme, in China. This is a collaboration between brands and the Apparel Impact Institute (AII), to drive improvements in manufacturing processes at these sites.
In addition to efforts that conserve water, we are also actively deploying the ZDHC Wastewater Guidelines. As an example, all of key Bangladeshi fabric mills are currently testing their wastewater against this guideline, and report results back to us. If suppliers are found to exceed the wastewater parameters outlined in the guideline, a corrective action plan must be initiated to remediate the root cause. This program continues to grow in scale.
Clean by Design in action
Since 2018 Primark has supported three mills in Zhejiang and Shandong provinces to participate in the Clean by Design programme . Throughout the programme, participating mills completed the Higg Facilities Environmental Module to track and report resource use and evaluate improvements. They also completed online training courses, attended workshops and met with our in-country teams to ensure they had a clear understanding of the programme and its aims.
An onsite assessment by experts in the manufacturing process was conducted to build capacity and identify opportunities in accordance with NDRC’s 10 best practices on energy and water management. We discussed these assessments with the mills and helped them to develop and implement action plans to address any issues. By participating in the programme, the mills achieved significant improvements and were able to reduce their water intake.
These partnerships mean we can help factories phase out certain chemicals, and check that they are considering how to use water carefully, helping us to stay true to our commitments.
You can find more detailed information in our latest Environmental Sustainability Report.
Primark Sustainable Cotton Programme
Cotton is an essential raw material for Primark, representing around half of our total fibre mix in 2020. In 2013 we partnered with agricultural experts CottonConnect and the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) to create the Primark Sustainable Cotton Programme. The programme launched with 1,251 female farmers in Gujarat, India and saw transformative results.
Since then, we have significantly expanded the programme to three regions in India and to Pakistan, with our local partner REEDS (Rural Education and Economic Development Society).
Farmers are trained by CottonConnect on the most appropriate farming techniques for their land, from seed selection, sowing, soil, water use, pesticide use and pest management, to picking and storage of the harvested cotton. As well as minimising environmental impact, the programme improves the livelihoods of the cotton farmers through increased income, achieved by increasing their cotton yields as well as helping to save on input costs including water, chemical fertiliser, and pesticide usage. From 2013 to 2019, cotton farmers in India saw an average of 10% reduction in water use.
You can find more detailed information about our Sustainable Cotton Programme here.