Fellow Story

Lund op-ed: spearheading sustainable industries in Bangladesh garment industry

Fellow(s): Susan Lund

Editor’s note: the following content is an excerpt from full story in the Dhaka Tribune, written by Susan Lund and Martin Holtmann.   

The manufacturing of ready-made garments comes at a high environmental cost. For instance, it can take over 2700 litres of water to make one t-shirt -- that is normally what an average person drinks over two and a half years. 

We all need clothes, but the challenge is producing clothes in a cost efficient and sustainable manner. It’s an issue that matters greatly in a country like Bangladesh, where the ready-made garment (RMG) industry has been a mainstay of the country’s economic success story.

The RMG industry makes over 80% of the country’s total export earnings and employs about 4 million people, mostly women. What is perhaps less known is that this industry has proven itself as a worldwide leader in choosing greener growth strategies, adopting cleaner technologies, and pivoting towards better environmental practices.

Water is one example. T-shirts manufactured in Bangladesh use significantly less water. According to assessments by the IFC-led Partnership for Cleaner Textile (PaCT) program, the average water consumption in Bangladesh’s washing, dyeing, and finishing (WDF) factories is 100 to 150 litres per kilogram of fabric production. Water and effluent costs account for as much as 5% of production costs.

But PaCT teams have identified ways of reducing, reusing, and recycling water. For example, in the case of one company, upgrading machines and installing advanced software led to 66% savings in water consumption within a year.

These savings matter. The resource consumption and waste generation in the textile and ready-made garment industry is high. Globally, the industry uses over five trillion liters of water -- the equivalent of two million Olympic-size swimming pools -- to dye some 28 billion kilograms of textiles each year.

The PaCT program has already helped over 400 factories reduce their freshwater consumption by more than 30 billion litres -- equivalent to the annual water needs of more than 1.7 million people -- and reducing greenhouse gas emissions -- equal to removing nearly 150,000 cars from the road. More and more factories are signing up to the program because they know they must go green to remain competitive in the international market.

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