Mills + Laundries

Mills + Laundries Improving environmental practices and benefitting communities

Some of the most important environmental impacts related to making our clothes come from fabric mills, which use a great deal of water, chemicals and energy during the dyeing and finishing process. Mills demonstrate how environmental practices carry a direct link to people’s health and well-being. Wastewater must be treated before being returned to the surrounding environment to ensure that both ecosystems and nearby communities are protected. Laundries, especially for denim, also require a great deal of water and pose pollution risks.

Gap Inc. is working with fabric mills and laundries to improve practices, and we are pursuing partnerships across our supply chain to reduce water and chemicals use. After exceeding our 2017 goal to reduce water in manufacturing by 1 billion liters — we saved 2.4 billion liters — we set an ambitious new goal to conserve 10 billion liters of water by the end of 2020 through sustainable manufacturing practices. These potential water savings are the equivalent volume of the daily drinking water needs for 5 billion people.

Reducing impacts at mills

Our Mill Sustainability Program establishes clear environmental standards for fabric mills to protect people and communities.

Our primary strategy to achieve our goal is to enhance our engagement with the mills and laundries in our supply chain and use water-saving methods in the production of our clothing. We also work with a variety of industry partnerships to improve water impacts.

We encourage and support our suppliers in conducting environmental footprint assessments, including water use, using the Sustainable Apparel Coalition's (SAC) Higg Index. We are also actively monitoring and helping improve wastewater quality at denim laundries through our Water Quality Program (WQP). In accordance with WQP, all Tier 1 supplier denim laundries must meet or exceed legal effluent discharge requirements.

Since 2015, we’ve been working closely with our suppliers to share important benchmarking data showing how their environmental performance compares to competitors and peers. With a dashboard, we provide details, by country and factory, on water consumption and energy use—so that we can help our suppliers identify opportunities for improvements.

Supporting Mills - At A Glance
Reducing impacts at mills

Mill Sustainability Program

In 2017, we transitioned our Mill Sustainability Program, which we launched in 2013, from a pilot to a strategic phase, with the purpose of driving transparency, reducing compliance risks and contributing to our corporate sustainability goals.

By 2020, we expect all Gap Inc.-approved mill facilities to participate in and report using the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) Higg Facility Environmental Module (FEM) 3.0, the Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals (ZDHC) program’s Manufacturing Restricted Substances List (MRSL) and Wastewater Guidelines Testing Program, as well as the Social and Labor Convergence Project’s (SLCP) social and labor assessment.

To meet these goals, we are collaborating closely with our Tier 2 suppliers, as well as local NGO partners. We have also further integrated these programs into our business through internal partnerships with our Global Supply Chain team.

The program is centered around five key objectives:

  1. Establish clear sustainability roadmap for mill engagement that is measurable, innovative and integrated into business decision-making.
  2. Assess internal and external needs to build capacity for this program.
  3. Develop and conduct training and education with our mill partners.
  4. Continuously monitor mills’ social and environmental performance.
  5. Create a mills scorecard to integrate the program’s impact into our overall business portfolio.


Before engaging our mill suppliers, we first needed to identify them at the facility level — a challenge in the highly fragmented apparel supply chain. Although this process is not complete, in 2017 we made significant progress in comprehensively mapping our mills in three categories: preferred mills, which represent the majority of our business volume; non-preferred mills; and niche and new mills. Through this process, we have learned that our engagement with mill vendors is more effective when we’re able to build relationships with the vendors supplying fabrics for our products and work collaboratively to reduce the environmental impacts of manufacturing.

We have three goals for the program’s first phase:

  1. All preferred and Tier 2 mill facilities to complete a self-assessment and third-party verification for Higg FEM 3.0.
  2. All mill facilities to review and understand ZDHC’s MRSL and Wastewater Guidelines.
  3. Select mills to pilot the SLCP assessment.

By deepening engagement with suppliers through these programs, we aim to spur innovation so that our suppliers contribute ideas and pilot new technologies to reduce environmental impacts.

We exceeded our 2017 goal to reduce water in manufacturing by 1 billion liters, saving 2.4 billion liters in total. Now we have a new goal to save 10 billion liters of water in our manufacturing processes by the end of 2020. 

In addition to our Mill Sustainability Program, we are working to improve water impacts by partnering with several industry collaborations.

Mill and Laundry Partnerships

In addition to our Mill Sustainability Program, we are working to improve water impacts by partnering with several industry collaborations.

The Natural Resources Defense Council’s (NRDC’s) Clean by Design program works with global apparel companies to help textile mills reduce their use of water, energy and chemicals. Since 2009, we have worked with Clean by Design to help mills conserve resources, save money and improve their performance. In 2017, we worked with eight mills and we have worked with 11 mills in the program to date. Overall, the program has led to an annual savings of 7 million tons of water and nearly $13 million in operating costs across all mill participants. Each mill used 11 percent less water, 7 percent less coal and saved, on average, $230,000 in annual operating costs. Additionally, we have developed our own program for six mills in China — the China Mill Efficiency Program — and saved 1.4 billion liters of water.

In Vietnam, our largest sourcing country, we work with Race to the Top alongside other global apparel and footwear brands, government, local industry and civil society. Race to the Top aims to scale up sustainable practices across the country’s garment-manufacturing sector by focusing on four pillars: proving the benefits of a sustainable apparel sector, demonstrating the business case for manufacturers and mills to invest in sustainability, creating a supportive regulatory environment, and creating cost efficiencies and opportunities for innovation in sustainability across Vietnam. We continue to focus on programs that support sustainability, cost savings and opportunities for innovation in our sector. The first mills to participate in the Mill Optimization program reported water, energy and fiscal savings.

In Bangladesh, we work with Partnership for Cleaner Textile (PaCT) to improve the environmental performance of the country’s textile wet-processing sector, which uses up to three times more water than the global average. This not only wastes water, it consumes more energy and costs more. In 2017, we worked with three denim laundries (our of nine total participating laundries), helping us save 115 million liters of water.