Patagonia is launching “Our Common Waters,” a two-year campaign that focuses on the impending freshwater crisis we’re facing. Besides highlighting the urgency of balancing our water consumption with that of the planet’s, the outdoor-apparel company will also be turning a gimlet eye to its own agua use. “At Patagonia, we’re only beginning to learn just how much water we consume—or how much water is used in our name,” says Vincent Stanley, co-editor of the label’s blog, The Footprint Chronicles. “We need to better educate ourselves and improve our own practices as a business that relies on water for its survival – and to pass on to customers—and other businesses—whatever we learn that’s new.”

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As individuals, each of us drains an Olympic pool’s worth of water—or 2.5 million liters—a year, from wetting our whistles to growing cotton for our jeans. Business, including agribusiness, has direct responsibility for most of the water use, Stanley says, but we’re not off the hook, either. “As individuals we have to remember that much of the water used in our name doesn’t come out of the tap we turn on to rinse the dishes, but rather as our share of the sum of industrial production and consumption,” he adds.

Patagonia uses 174 liters of water to produce a pair of organic-cotton jeans—enough to slake the thirsts of 58 people for a day.

Case in point: Patagonia goes through 174 liters of water to manufacture a single pair of organic-cotton jeans. From growing the crops to spinning, weaving, sewing, and shipping, that’s enough of the wet stuff to quench the thirsts of 58 people for a day. Because their cotton is dryland-farmed, however, they’re considerably less thirsty than Patagonia’s bestselling pima-cotton shirt, which chugs 2,304 liters—or a day’s drinking water for 768 people—even with improved drip irrigation that uses 20 to 30 percent less H2O) than conventional irrigation.

The good news is all businesses, including Patagonia, yearn to cut costs, including their consumption of resources. “We have our work cut out for us this year and in the years ahead,” Stanley says. “Not only to become fully aware of how much water goes into the making of every product, but to begin to reduce it.”

Patagonia will be measuring its usage, especially from water-parched regions, using a protocol developed by the Bren School of Environmental Science & Management at the University of California at Santa Barbara, as well as the Eco Index that the Outdoor Industry Association debuted last year. Numbers in hand, it’ll then work with farmers and mills to reduce untreated runoff, close the wastewater cycle (“so that the water leaving the factories should be cleaner than when it came in,” Stanley says), and stem water wastage in its offices, warehouses, and stores.

As a member of the new Sustainable Apparel Coalition, Patagonia isn’t going it alone. Want to join the good fight? Start by measuring your own personal water footprint, visit National Geographic’s Water Footprint Calculator.

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