A new report from Clean by Design shows how energy and water efficiency translate into big savings.
Last month, I reported on a Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) program that is working to clean up the apparel industry’s worst hot spots. The program, called Clean by Design, works with textile mills to help them improve their energy and water efficiency, while also reducing the use of toxic chemicals.
A new report from Clean by Design further quantifies how effective the program can be. Using benchmarking data from 33 textile mills in China, the program saved the participating factories a total of $14.73 million in reduced operating costs. The average mill reduced its water usage by nine percent, its electricity usage by four percent. While these percentages may seem modest, cumulatively the program saved 61,000 tons of coal and 3 million tons of water—efficiencies that will be in effect going forward. And individual mills did much better, with one mill reducing its water use by 36 percent and another reducing energy use by 22 percent.
These mills are suppliers to international brands, including Levi Strauss, Target, Gap and H&M. The NRDC partnered with these brands to help motivate mills to participate in the program. “They identified important mills in their supply chain, and they opened the doors to those factories,” said Linda Greer, the director of Clean by Design and senior scientist for the NRDC. “And then once they’ve identified factories that need to improve, they can use our program and even other programs to improve environmental performance so that we have a real impact on the ground.”
These improvements can be everything from fixing leaking pipes to installing more efficient boilers and implementing heat recovery systems that warm buildings.
The NRDC has implemented the Clean By Design in about 200 fabric mills around the world (not all of the mills participated in the benchmarking program), but they still have a lot of work ahead of them. There are an estimated 15,000 textiles factories in China alone, so bringing the program to a bigger scale is their next challenge.