Four manufacturing facilities operated by Hong Kong based Crystal Group, one of Asia's largest apparel manufacturers, have now gained eco-factory status under Marks & Spencer's Plan A ethical and sustainability programme.

The plants, two of which are in China and two in Sri Lanka, produce lingerie and sweaters for the UK-based retailer.

Initiatives introduced to save energy, reduce waste and protect the environment include new lights and skylights, solar thermal heating of water used for production and in dormitories, recycling water and collecting rain water, and recycling waste fabric and materials.

M&S launched its Plan A programme in January 2007, with the ultimate goal of becoming the world's most sustainable major retailer. The company initially set out 100 goals it wanted to achieve in five years, and has now extended this to 180 commitments to achieve by 2015.

Crystal Group, which has an annual production of 240m garments for fashion brands including Gap, JCPenney, Levi's and H&M, operates 13 manufacturing facilities in China, Sri-Lanka, Vietnam and Bangladesh with annual sales of US$1.2bn.

The company's CEO Andrew Lo recently told just-style that efforts to improve the sustainability of the business and its fashion supply chain also come with a strong commercial case.

"We are embracing sustainability because we are reducing our CO2 emissions, our energy usage, our effluent discharge, our material waste - but we are also reducing our costs, making us more competitive," he explained.

Over the next five years Crystal Group has targeted a 10% reduction in freshwater consumption per garment, sending zero production waste to landfill and reducing the carbon footprint per garment by 6%.

Indeed its Yida denim factory in China's Pearl River Delta has already won numerous awards for its efforts on this front, which are also being rolled out to other facilities. Yida makes 1m pairs of jeans a month and is the second-largest bottoms exporter in China.