Business & Society
facts & figures

Wearing jeans longer to waste less water

Cool jeans are supposed to look old and worn. To achieve this effect, new jeans are given a used look. The chemical processes that are used to create it are extremely detrimental to the environment and require huge amounts of water. It is estimated that every pair of jeans produced in this way consumes up to 11,000 liters of water before it can be sold in a store.

The biggest amount of water is required for the extensive irrigation of the cotton fields and the production of the associated pesticides. However, the young US textile company Evrnu has developed a solution. On behalf of the Levi’s jeans brand, this start-up company from Seattle has come up with a method for producing denim fibers completely from old cotton fabrics. The effect is twofold: Water consumption is reduced by 98 percent, and this prime example of recycling has great potential for widespread use (11 million of the approximately 13.1 million tons of waste textiles in the USA are disposed of every year).

The time-honored Levi’s label is the world’s first company to take this sustainable approach, which is initially being used for its 511 series. For some time now, small labels such as SEY and Kuyichi have been producing “organic jeans” by means of environmentally compatible processes, for example by avoiding chlorine bleach. Consumers have a choice. The best way to save water is to stop buying “used look” jeans and simply wear a pair of jeans long enough until time wears it out naturally.

Virtual water consumption

How much water is needed for production


16.000 L ≙ 1 kg of beef

119 L ≙ 1 kg of potatoes

800 L ≙ 1 kg of wheat

140 L ≙ 1 cup of coffee

30 L ≙ 1 cup of tea

11.000 L ≙ 1 pair of jeans

2.000 L ≙ 1 kg of paper

20 L ≙ 1 kg of recycled paper


Big differences

Water prices in selected cities in 2014

Amounts in US dollars per cubic meter

Sources: Fortune (Brainstorm Green)






Water is also a commodity: The Hoover Dam in the USA



Water is not only vital to life—it’s also becoming increasingly valuable Investors know this very well, and they’re making big profits with “blue gold.” How does this work?

Water is a scarce resource. Even though around 70 percent of the earth’s surface is covered by water, only one percent of this amount is usable freshwater. Moreover, the growing world population is causing global thirst to increase as well. This is making “blue gold” increasingly valuable—not only for consumers but also for investors on the financial market.

Indirect buying Unlike gold or grain, water can’t be directly bought and stored. And unlike crude oil, there is no globally valid price for water. If you want to invest your money in water, you have to do so indirectly—by buying securities in water businesses ranging from private water suppliers and wastewater treatment facilities to seawater desalination plants, manufacturers of pumps and filters, and mineral water companies. It is estimated that the global water market has had a volume of around €500 billion in recent years. This market is expected to grow by six percent annually. Investors can benefit from this development by buying shares in individual water-related companies or in water funds.

A raw material for everyone But is it ethically justifiable to make a profit from a vital resource such as water? For example, what happens if a water supplier offers drinking water at disproportionately high prices? The ESG (Environment, Social, and Governance) criteria provide transparency in this area. Funds that bear this label take into account factors such as environmental sustainability, human rights, and investor protection. These standards can provide orientation for people who would like to invest their money effectively while helping to improve the global supply of water.


Walter Hirche

»Use wastewater as a source of raw materials«


According to a UN survey, almost 80 percent of all the jobs in the world are dependent on water. In your opinion, what are the consequences of this fact?

The increasing scarcity of water requires more investments in the modernization of an aging and inefficient water infrastructure and an increase of trained workers in the water supply sector. We need to transition to a green economy in which water plays a key role.


The United Nations World Water Development Report for 2017 focuses on wastewater issues. Why?

If wastewater is not properly treated, it does harm to people, the environment, and the economy. But we have to do more than just processing wastewater correctly. We also have to use innovative projects to produce energy and raw materials from wastewater.


What specific measures and technologies do you recommend?

Let me give you an example. About 22 percent of the phosphorus consumed worldwide today could be extracted from human urine and feces. Phosphorus is a finite resource that is used in fertilizers and has already been greatly depleted. There’s considerable development potential here

Walter Hirche

is a member of the Executive Committee of the German Commission for UNESCO and was its President from 2002 to 2014.


liters of water per second were consumed in Munich during the half-time break of the final game of the 2014 World Cup. Only 2,000 liters were consumed during the playing time