In 1998, when Arvind Mills (now Arvind Ltd) started its fabric plant at Santej, near Ahmedabad, Gujarat, the western State was passing through recurrent acute water crisis due to inadequate rainfall over the years and the resultant series of droughts in that decade. So much so that special water trains were run between Gandhinagar and Jamnagar.

This summer also, many areas in the State are receiving inadequate water and farmers have been denied water for irrigation from the Narmada river, which is likely to impact kharif production negatively in the coming months.

The prevailing acute water crisis prompted Arvind to innovate and save water in all possible ways, both as a business requirement and social responsibility. The Santej plant, spread over a 400-acre area, currently has nearly 8,300 workers, including 1,300 regular staff members. It houses the group’s fabric-only plant which has three divisions for readying fabric for shirting, trousers and knitwear. It has huge capacities, too: its monthly production capacities are 12 million metres of shirt and trouser fabric and 800 tonnes of knit fabrics.

Addressing the challenge

Clearly, water requirement for such a massive plant is also huge: 17 million litres per day. The initial source of water was groundwater, whose levels kept fluctuating with seasons. The company took it as a challenge, decided to make the facility a zero liquid discharge (ZLD) plant and installed an effluent treatment plant (ETP) in 1998 itself for recycling water for reuse in industrial activity.

“Today, Arvind Ltd has made its water requirement stable and sustainable by recycling, re-circulating and reusing about 95 per cent of input water, unlike other factories which reuse only about 10-15 per cent of recycled water,” said Abhishek Bansal, Head of Sustainability. The ETP has a capacity to treat 17,500 cubic metres of textile effluents per day and has about 250 workers. In 2014, the company also installed Mechanical Vapour Recompression Evaporation (MVRE) in the effluent recycling system for low-cost evaporation and recovery of salt dissolved in the effluents.

Interestingly, the company is also treating and recycling sewage water from the nearby drains of Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC). This is something no other corporate house seems to have done so far. “About 15 per cent of our water requirement for production is met by this recycled waste water from the AMC,” said Chetan Bhangale, Chief Manager, R&D, Sustainability. After initial treatment of this drainage water, disinfection of pathogens is done by chemicals before water is sent back into the recycling system.

From waste to good

To save, recycle and reuse drainage water, the Mills also upgraded technology and set up a sewerage treatment plant (STP) about five years ago. To draw this waste water from nearby village Jashpur to the factory, it laid a four km-long pipeline. After treatment, and a final check for the absence of Entamoeba Coli ( E.Coli ) and other viruses, this waste water can be used even for safe drinking purpose. The STP has a capacity to treat four million litres of sewage water a day, and a tank to store two million litres of waste water.

The maximum requirement of water in the Santej facility is for dyeing and processing of fabric. “We no longer depend on ground water for much of our requirement, nor on fresh water from outside, except for drinking purposes as some staffers have reservations about drinking recycled waste water,” said Jitendra Chaudhari, Head, ETP. “The water recycled by ETP and STP is ideal for any industrial consumption.”

This has happened for the first time in India. Only Singapore uses treated and recycled municipal waste water for human consumption. “There is no health risk in using this sanitised water,” the officials said.

Arvind Ltd has 12 production facilities, of which three are in Gujarat and nine in Karnataka, with similar facilities for recycling waste water. Overall, it is meeting 60 per cent of its total water requirements through recycling of waste water. “Our aim is to draw 85 per cent of our water requirement from waste water in the next couple of years,” said Bansal.

Innovation, the key

Enthused with these positive results, in 2011, the Arvind Group set up a new company, Arvind Envisol, to provide expertise and turn-key projects to other companies on how to develop solutions for environmental challenges. It now has 22 patents of its own on technology innovations and has seen an impressive growth. The company has installed its technology at 16 facilities of different corporate houses that include Coke, Pepsi, some FMCG, textile and pharmaceutical companies. Not only this, even Ethiopia has evinced interest in it.

Apart from saving water for its production plants, Arvind also launched a “Better Cotton Initiative” (BCI) as an intervention to help about 4,500 cotton farmers of Gujarat and Maharashtra, spread over some 40,000 hectares. Cotton is a high water consumption crop. The company is training farmers on how to conserve water by using sprinklers for irrigation and get good crops by testing their farm’s soil periodically along with using better seeds and pesticides. “We are sensitising these farmers on how they can save up to two billion litres of water every year.”

Arvind Ltd became the first Indian company to partner BCI in 2011-12, launched in Switzerland. “We have a tripartite agreement with the farmers and the government whereby we buy cotton from the farmers at market price at the end of harvest.”

Nuggets on Arvind Ltd

Arvind Ltd manages 15 global brands, has registered 22 global patents for environmental solutions and has reached out to over 80,000 acres of farmland under organic and BCI cultivation, according to its Sustainability Report, 2014-16.

Company has a market capitalisation of $1.7 billion and 85 years of business experience. The Group’s business interests range from textiles, retail, advanced materials to environmental solutions and real estate.

The Group began as a spinning and weaving unit in 1931. In the 1980s, when several large composite mills in India were in crisis due to the introduction of power looms, Arvind adopted the ‘Reno vision’ business strategy, focusing on international markets and high quality premium fabrics. Within a decade, it claimed to be among the top three denim producers in the world.

In 2014, Arvind bought 49 per cent stake in Calvin Klein in India, and set up a joint venture (JV) with Goodhill Corporation of Japan for launch of formal suits.

In 2015, Arvind Lifestyle Brands partnered with Gap and US apparel brand Aeropostale for their entry into India. It also launched the Arvind Composite Business, and The Children’s Place, a kids’ fashion retail format in India.

In 2016, the company ventured into the footwear market, launched ‘True Blue’, co-branded with cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar. It also signed a deal to manage the Indian operations of cosmetics and beauty retailer, Sephora.

In 2016, it started operations in Ethiopia.