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There’s a trick to knowing what colors will infuse next season’s trends, according to Linda Greer, senior scientist at Natural Resources Defense Council. Simply look at China’s rivers. The waterways of the world’s largest clothing exporter frequently churn with the untreated effluent of countless textile mills and dye houses. Some days they appear red; others, blue, yellow, or green. In fact, nearly one third of Chinese rivers are considered too polluted for direct human contact, notes Greer, who directs the nonprofit’s “Clean by Design” program. Launched in 2009, the initiative has labored to loosen the garment industry’s environmental stranglehold. And it looks like its efforts are starting to pay off.
Greer was in Shanghai on Tuesday, where she lauded 33 Chinese mills for graduating from Clean by Design’s “Class of 2014.” Situated in the textile-manufacturing hubs of Shaoxing and the Guangzhou, most of the facilities create clothing for major brands and retailers such as Gap, H&M, Levi Strauss, and Target.
By adopting simple efficiency measures in their production processes, the mills were able to reduce water use by 36 percent, energy use by 22 percent, and chemical use by at least 400 tons. The result is a collective $14.7 million in savings annually.
“Great fashion can also be green fashion,” says Greer. “Although apparel manufacturing is among the largest polluting industries in the world, it doesn’t have to be. There are enormous opportunities for the fashion industry to clean up its act while saving money, and Clean By Design offers low-cost, high-impact solutions to do just that.”
Clean by Design touts its “10 Best Practices,” a collection of quick-return practices that whittle resource inefficiencies at no or low cost.
The recommendations typically pay for themselves in less than a year, Greer says. Others, like reusing cooling water and recovering heat from hot water, make returns within a few months.
“Apparel brands can use their buying power to reduce the environmental footprint of their manufacturing while enhancing the bottom line,” Greer adds. “Without a doubt, the 21st century conscious consumer rewards brands and retailers that embrace responsible manufacturing and value triple-bottom line solutions. This practical and replicable action plan provides a proven blueprint for companies to drive a sustainable transformation of the fashion industry.”