Improving sustainability can also bring significant cost savings

Improving sustainability can also bring significant cost savings

Deadly accidents such as the Rana Plaza disaster may have earned the Bangladesh textile and clothing sector notoriety, but there is a new generation of firms such as DBL Group trying to erase that spot on the industry’s reputation.

Smart entrepreneurs are now courting buyers through a new sales pitch: sustainable production.

Of course, there has to be reform behind such claims, and Mohammed Abdul Jabbar, managing director of DBL Group, a spinning, fabric knitting, dyeing and finishing, garments, washing, packaging and printing company, says the company gives the environment the same priority as looking after its staff, production and products.

To reduce its carbon footprint, the DBL Group has implemented international guidance, such as from ‘Cleaner Production’ by the International Finance Corporation (IFC), of the World Bank; the ‘Responsible Sourcing Initiative’ by the main World Bank; and the ‘Energy Saving Initiative’, from the German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ).

"The systems are not only improving efficiency, but also bringing about significant cost savings," said Jabbar.

For example, the company’s energy management centre has been able to curtail electricity consumption by around 21% to 7.9m kilowatts (KW) by 2013 from 10m KW in 2010, DBL data showed.

The company has commissioned a second new biological effluent treatment plant (ETP), which is already operating with a capacity of 7,500 cubic metres. The government’s department of environment has adopted the DBL Group’s first ETP as a good practice model.

"Environmental awareness helps us in creating and ensuring sustainable relationships with buyers and a variety of stakeholders, thus enabling increased life span of the business," said Jabbar.

These have paid dividends. The DBL boss said his company has added Marks & Spencer, Next, and Gymboree as new clients while increasing orders from existing buyers such as Hennes & Mauritz (H&M), Walmart, and G-Star Raw.

Technology trailblazer
Another company that stands out from the crowd is Grameen Knitwear Ltd. Nobel laureate and microcredit trailblazer Prof Dr Muhammad Yunus chairs the board of the 18-year-old knitwear firm, owned by two non-profit arms of microfinance bank Grameen.

Speaking to just-style, the company’s managing director Ashraful Hassan described how German technology has made all the difference to its sustainability performance.

He wanted to avoid the model of traditional fabric dyeing factories that use "millions of litres of underground water" at no cost. "Textile [manufacture] is the second-biggest consumer of water in the world after irrigation," he noted.

At present, the textile sector in Dhaka – comprising 1,700 organised and unorganised washing, dyeing and finishing units – consumes 1,500bn litres of groundwater annually to produce 5m tonnes of fabric, according to an estimate by the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC) and Dhaka think tank Policy Research Institute. It requires 300 litres of water per kilogramme of fabric.

To remedy the situation, he paired with Dr Wolfram Engel, a German-born textile engineer, to found the Green Project Water Saving Technology (WST), a Hong Kong-based non-profit organisation that promotes environment-friendly and resource-efficient production services, which launched Bangladesh operations in 2012.

This technology is used by Grameen to finish fabric, reducing water use to 80 litres for dyeing one kilogram of fabric, compared with 150 litres in a traditional factory, using high exhaustion or new generation dyes instead of classic reactive dyes. There are financial savings too: US$0.46 saved while dyeing a kilogram of fabric.

"The unique part of the technology is that you can achieve this without any additional investment," he said.

With an annual turnover of US$21-22m, the company works with dozens of global fashion and sportswear brands and retail chains, including Giorgio Armani, Pierre Cardin, Marco Polo, Disney, Mango, and Medico Sports.

Environmental awareness
Environmental awareness is growing among Bangladesh textile makers in general, according to Mohammad Shahidullah Azim, vice president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA). He hoped 150 factories would receive LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) certification from the US Green Building Council (GBC) by 2016.

But there is a way to go: presently, only 34 out of 240 organised wet processing units in the Bangladesh textile industry have adopted sustainable production processes, said Azim. He added that factories known by buyers to operate along green and sustainable lines can get 5% to 10% higher prices, compared with dirtier and less efficient plant. Even a gradual investment can make a difference.

Abbas Uddin, principal engineering consultant at the Bangladesh arm of the UK’s Reed Consultancies Ltd, estimated it would require 25% to 30% of additional investment for a Bangladesh textile and clothing company to adopt practices that do not harm the environment.

"It's a gradual, not a one-off investment," he said, arguing that while initial investment is high, the ultimate benefits a company gets from going green are much higher.

"If you can slash water and energy consumption, your production costs will be lower. This will give you an edge over others," he added.

He maintained that buyers’ pressure has sparked a change in the textile and clothing industry, forcing entrepreneurs to seek new path to growth. "Buyers now collect individual data. Each month, factories need to provide update on water and energy consumption. Obviously, this gives good factories a comparative advantage," he noted.

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