International textile companies join hands for cleaner textiles

The Bangladesh garment industry is vital for the country’s economic development, but it comes at a cost. Particularly textile wet processing (dyeing and finishing) needs a lot of water, chemical and energy. The industry is the second largest polluter of surface water. Building on a successful pilot, the local industry and 8 brands – including H&M, C&A and G-Star – partner with International Finance Corporation (part of World Bank group) and Solidaridad to improve practices.
The Netherlands Embassy and private sector companies share the costs of 11 million dollars in the four year programme.

Improving environmental performance

The Bangladesh Water PaCT, Partnership for Cleaner Textiles, aims to raise awareness on cleaner production practices at 500 textile wet processing factories; and to implement better practices in 200 factories. It ensures the involvement of commercial, governmental and financial organisations within these efforts. In order to create a sector wide shift towards cleaner textiles the programme also works with brands and retailers to create a demand for more sustainable practices. It furthermore builds local knowledge and expertise by training local service providers and establishes a Textile Technology Business Centre. IFC facilitates dialogue on key sustainability topics among all stakeholders. International programme manager of Solidaridad Network, Janet Mensink, is pleased with big international garment companies that take responsibility: “The practical and innovative approach of Solidaridad and the IFC to develop cleaner production in factories had surprisingly positive results. I am very pleased that brands and factories take responsibility and adopt this approach. Now we can scale up from pilot projects to a larger scale investment”.

Strong economic impact

The garment industry is extremely important for the Bangladesh economy. It is responsible for 79% of export earnings with a very high potential for further growth. This growth potential may in the future be limited by the social and environmental challenges like resource scarcity:  ground water levels are rapidly declining and power shortages become more frequent.

Front runner brands increasingly recognize the urgency of the challenges. Felix Ockborn of H&M mentions in an interview with Dutch newspaper Volkskrant that the programme closely fits their sustainability ambitions: ‘We strive towards environmental improvements in all areas – from cotton production to reuse of garments. When it comes to cleaner textile wet processing, it is difficult to identify targets because the benchmark does not exist. With this programme we contribute to that.’ ‘The awareness in Bangladesh of the importance of environmental improvements is today insufficient’. ‘All will benefit from a more sustainable value chain, not only we as a brand. Bangladesh needs to secure its resources. Textile producers need clean water, but fisherman, farmers and communities as well.’

Proven successes in Bangladesh

Considering the highly encouraging results of the pilot project, the partners in PaCT are convinced that the programme will be successful.  The first 12 pilot companies together invested $ 480.000 in resource efficiency measures and saved costs worth $ 1 million. The total amount of water saved as a result of the pilot equals the annual amount of drinking water for 590.000 Bangladeshis.

DBL group manager mr. Zahid explains in Volkskrant: ‘This programme was an eye-opener. We had no idea how easy it was to increase our efficiency with such great numbers. Investing $80.000 resulted in cost savings of half a million dollar for water, gas and electricity. At the same time we increased production with 7%.’

** Update featured in the Media: Conservation Pays Off for Bangladeshi Factories (New York Times)