New Fashion Wastewater Solution Unveiled At UN Summit

The Artisan Leadership Summit at the United Nations.

The Artisan Leadership Summit at the United Nations.

Last week, Nest held its annual Artisan Leadership Summit at the United Nations. The New York-based non-profit, which works towards building a new handworker economy to increase global workforce inclusivity, improve women’s wellbeing beyond factories, and preserve important cultural traditions around the world, has hosted the event for the past three years, in conjunction with the Ethical Fashion Initiative. And this year, one of the fashion industry’s most pressing environmental challenges, wastewater, was not only discussed, but a globally applicable solution unveiled.

During the opening panel discussion, which looked at how textile brands in the fashion industry are currently using differing techniques to endeavour to combat the effects of toxicity from wastewater, as a result of the dyeing process, corporate and philanthropic partners and artisan leaders heard how Nest, in partnership with Swiss consulting firm Ecopsis, has developed the first-ever globally applicable and affordable solution for wastewater management.

Over a two-year period, the two organizations conducted extensive testing and research at ten artisan brands based in India, Nepal, Bangladesh and California, to examine their wastewater management technologies and relationships with local engineers. As a result, Ecopsis, which specializes in the challenges of sanitation projects, identified three hindrances that inhibit development of wastewater solutions across the board, Firstly, a low demand or interest in the artisan community to invest in wastewater systems due to a lack of education and awareness of health-associated risks. Secondly, total absence of enforcement from local regulation in which brands cannot meet established standards financially or otherwise. And finally, that artisans’ suppliers offer technologies that cannot be sustained over time.

The solution devised by Nest and Ecopsis will be implemented via a phased approach, which will primarily help artisans select and build the right technology within their budget to treat wastewater. In its second phase, the tool will improve the selected system incrementally over time; and ancillary services such as educational tools, scheduled to pilot in various locations next year, will complement the initiative.

In addition to wastewater management, panel topics at the summit included discussions centered on the new handworker economy, and how sustaining and empowering handworkers can address not only environmental issues, but economic, social and gender-equality concerns too. It was also recognized that in today’s fast-paced fashion industry, certain handworkers and traditional crafts are at risk of being phased out, and suggested that by employing a system of storytelling around their workforce and the textiles they use, new businesses can establish clear value systems with consumers and raise awareness through the use of technology and social media.