The biggest sale in sustainability? It’s profitable
Durability shouldn’t be a hard sell. And yet, in our industry, so many apparel manufacturers continue to view this as a financial burden, a potential drain on their businesses. However, sustainability is basically about keeping your business going. It is also a good household. Confused? Please bear with me.
Growing up, many of us learned the value of taking care of precious resources. Don’t leave the lights on; don’t waste electricity; separate household waste streams into recyclable materials; don’t throw things away when they can be reused. These savings techniques are passed down from one generation to the next. To use an English phrase, “If you mind the pennies, the pounds will mind themselves.”
Most smart business owners apply these lessons to their craft. In fact, the most successful business owners often walk around factories and spot instances of waste, whether it’s a leaky faucet or equipment that’s been left running unnecessarily. These people can be successful business owners – they can be multi-millionaires – but they hate to see resources wasted.
The flip side is that the owner who loses sight of these little things, their business begins to splurge on unnecessary luxuries. Too much fat and poor use of resources will eventually catch up with any business, especially one with tight margins, such as clothing manufacturing.
I said that durability is a matter of good maintenance. To this end, it represents a financial opportunity. How? ‘Or’ What?
A few examples come to mind from the ready-to-wear (RMG) industry. The first is a recent study which found that RMG factories in Bangladesh have enormous potential to harvest rainwater for use in production. The study, conducted by WaterAid and the RAiN Forum, suggests that some factories are already meeting up to 60% of their production needs using collected rainwater. The report revealed that many factories have the potential to harvest 10,000 cubic meters of rainwater, while large factories could harvest between 10,000 and 30,000 cubic meters each year. Obviously, plant owners have to make an initial investment in water harvesting technology, but after that the savings quickly become apparent (and the investment is relatively small).
But I hear people say: Factories don’t pay for water, so why does it matter? In fact, I believe that one day our industry will begin to put a high monetary price on water, especially for industrial use. When that day comes, factories that harvest rainwater will be well placed financially. Until then, owners can sleep well knowing they’re doing the right thing for the planet.
Second, many fashion companies are now looking to partner with factories that are actively working on sustainable operations. Thus, there is a financial return on these types of investments in terms of securing and maintaining business relationships with international apparel brands.
The second example of sustainability having a financial incentive relates to energy and chemical savings in the production of clothing. In addition to using excess water, clothing production often wastes energy and chemicals, which is a prime example of poor housekeeping. Many companies in our industry waste huge amounts of money every year due to excessive use of resources. It’s remarkable, isn’t it, that at a time when we should all be thinking about how to save resources, many factory owners are inadvertently wasting them?
It doesn’t have to be that way. A series of programs funded by organizations such as the World Bank over the years have shown that huge amounts of energy, chemicals (and water) can be saved by investing in more sustainable and efficient production methods. .
Often, the steps that plant owners need to take are relatively simple and would be considered low-hanging fruit when it comes to sustainability. Many small steps can often have a big net effect. They may include upgrades and the replacement of old production technologies with more efficient equipment. To give some perspective, a study found that energy consumption in Vietnam’s textile sector alone could decrease by 30% nationwide with technology upgrades and improved efficiency. Thirty percent! Vietnam has a textile industry similar in size to that of Bangladesh, so the comparison is relevant.
What are we waiting for then? Well, there are a lot of things that are holding our industry back from making these changes. Perhaps most important is our mindset and our attitude. As I’ve said before, too many homeowners still view sustainability as a financial burden. Maybe sustainability needs to be marketed differently. Maybe those selling it should start with the question: is your manufacturing operation hemorrhaging money? Is it expending too much energy or textile chemicals? Does it fail to maximize operational efficiency and does it have excess waste, hurting profit margins?
So many businesses fail in these areas. They think they have a sustainability problem, but in reality they have a financial problem.
In the modern world, the two are, in many cases, two sides of the same coin.
Mostafiz Uddin is the Managing Director of Denim Expert Limited. He is also the founder and CEO of Bangladesh Denim Expo and Bangladesh Apparel Exchange (BAE).