An initiative launched in China four years ago to scale up sustainability efforts in large textile clusters is starting to see results.

Launched in 2013 by the International Finance Corporation (IFC), a member of the World Bank Group, and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the Green Textile City Initiative set out to boost sustainability in Shaoxing and Guangzhou, with the addition of Suzhou in 2015.

China produces more than half of the world's textile fabrics, with US$267bn in exports in 2016. But the water-and-energy intensive sector has a large environmental footprint.

The Green Textile City Initiative, under IFC's China Water Program, provided sector-level capacity building and technical training for over 100 textile mills in the three cities. Half of the trained mills implemented resource efficiency projects on their own.

Results from the initiative show that in the Greater Suzhou area, 23 textile mills implemented 138 factory projects last year, saving $8.4m in water, energy, and chemical operating costs. These projects had an average payback of 17 months and collectively saved 4m cubic metres of water and 30,000 tons of coal – or its energy equivalent – per year.

Kurt Kipka, NRDC senior project manager, says the results from the Suzhou programme further demonstrate that the Clean by Design best practices can drive "significant environmental improvement and cost savings" for apparel and textile supply chains.

Navneet Chadha, IFC resource efficiency lead for East Asia and Pacific, adds: "This joint initiative with NRDC is a good example of how we can leverage partnerships and expertise of multiple stakeholders to scale up resource efficiency in manufacturing supply chains. A sustainable textile industry will benefit the private sector while supporting a better environment in China."

IFC's China Water Program has been in operation since 2012 to catalyse industrial water efficiency financing in partnership with the Hungarian Export-Import Bank, the Netherlands Ministry of Economic Affairs, and the Netherlands Enterprise Agency RVO.

Gábor Szõcs, director for Hungarian Export Import Bank and Private Sector Liaison Officer for Hungary, says: "We are encouraged to see the strong developmental results this programme has achieved in a difficult market and Hungary is happy to have partnered with IFC to support sustainable development in China."