Asia is at the heart of many of the industrys sustainability initiatives

Asia is at the heart of many of the industry's sustainability initiatives

Asia - the world's textile and clothing workshop - is at the heart of many of the industry's sustainability initiatives. The reason is that brands simply cannot afford not to care: their reputation can be seriously damaged if a supplier is responsible for a pollution spill or industrial accident.

It is maybe no surprise that multiple 'green' initiatives are underway in Bangladesh's garment and textile sector, which has long had a poor environmental reputation and its fire and building safety vulnerabilities are known only too well.

One is run by the Promotion of Social and Environmental Standards in Industry initiative of the German Development Programme (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit - GIZ-PSES).

Its social and environmental standards coordinator Magnus Schmid says his organisation "is now preparing an agreement with a global manufacturer of industrial chemicals and dyes to improve chemical management in 10 [Bangladesh] textile mills."

Bangladesh will benefit from GIZ's chemical management tools, which includes practical measures for proper handling and storage of chemicals; improving workplace safety; saving water, energy and dyes; and complying with environmental laws. GIZ-PSES has supported green approaches in more than 150 Bangladesh textile and garment factories since 2010.

However, the Bangladesh industry has long struggled with environmental standards, says Schmid. Bangladesh's nearly "700 washing and dyeing plants operate without waste water treatment plants" and, consuming 150 litres of fresh water to make 1 kilogramme of ready-garments, are a cause of Dhaka's groundwater levels falling by one to two metres per year, he adds.

The private Danish Ethical Trading Initiative (Dansk Initiativ for Etisk Handel) is also helping the Bangladesh sector by building a state-of-the-art manufacturing complex using greener technologies in Gazipur, north of Dhaka. The complex will consist of a "spinning mill, dyeing facility, washing facility and an 11-floor production facility which will be completed within two years," says the initiative's director, Hanne Gürtler. 

Meanwhile, Fazlul Hoque, a director of the Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers & Exporters Association (BKMEA), says his company Plummy Fashions will, in October, open a knitwear manufacturing unit certified to the 'Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design' (LEED) platinum standard - the highest certificate awarded by the US Green Building Council.

It will be equipped with light-emitting diode (LED) task lights and high performance prismatic skylights, helping the unit use less than half the energy consumed by traditional garment factories. The factory will also reduce water consumption by 70% compared to conventional factories by harvesting rainwater, he says.

Indian initiatives
In neighbouring India, increased global demand for eco-friendly and ethical textiles is encouraging Indian manufacturers seek global certifications such as the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), Oeko-Tex, Flo-Cert fair trade certification, Fair Trade certification and others.

Some, such as Alok Industries Limited, India's largest fully integrated textile company for cotton and polyester, has partnered with Zameen Organic to form a farmer-centred fair trade business.

This initiative supports the conversion of more than 6,000 member farmers to organic farming and helps them establish independent co-operatives, as well as arranging organic and fair trade certification for growers. The company utilises best in class technologies to reduce fuel gas emissions, utilise alternative and cleaner fuel and maximise water re-use. Alok Industries has received a Consortium of Green Fashion (CGF) award for its efforts.

Indian designer Anita Dongre, who established a groundbreaking organic brand Grassroot using eco-friendly fabrics and natural and vegetable dyes, told just-style: "Eco-fabric or eco-fashion has taken a new dimension in the last couple of years. When I launched Grassroot in 2007, we had very few options of fabrics to choose from, but the situation has gradually improved.

"A whole new range of fabrics like bamboo, Modal, Tencel, soya fabric, milk fabric [and] eucalyptus can be used now. They not only give us various options in terms of better aesthetics, hand-feel and texture but they also add a stimulating dimension to the collections which would otherwise be more about design and less about fabric content."

Green production in China
Home-grown green production initiatives are also emerging in China. Li Chunguang, vice director of production at Huafang Textile, one of China's leading printing and dyeing companies, told just-style that it is using bio-enzyme-based products. This helps the company to efficiently reduce chemical oxygen demand while reducing water and energy usage.

Huafang has received a China Dyeing and Printing Association award for "demonstrative energy saving and emission cutting in the printing and dyeing industry" for its innovations.

Li says the use of bio-enzymes helps "water utilisation and treatment, improves clothing quality and brings convenience to workers," by reducing their exposure to toxins. Indeed, by using bioenzymes, Li says water consumption could be reduced by 10% to 20% when using standard finishing chemicals, because waste water could be collected and reused.

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With additional reporting by Mini Pant Zachariah and Su Dongxia.