NRDC's 'Clean by Design' Could Save China Textile Mills 16 MMT of Water Annually

nrdc clean by design photo

Fabric samples from Redbud factory in China. Image courtesy of NRDC.

At the Clinton Global Initiative on Wednesday, Walmart announced its work with the Natural Resources Defense Council's (NRDC) Clean by Design project--which is aimed at cleaning up China's textile mills. Walmart joins H&M; in their commitment to reduce water, energy, and chemical use in their Chinese textile suppliers, according to the press release. Both will start pilot projects at select mills before bringing NRDC's recommendations to their broader supply chain.

This could have big impact in reducing the environmental footprint of China's textile mills: if 100 textile mills implement NRDC's recommended improvements, "China would save more than 16 million metric tons of water annually, enough to provide 12.4 million people drinking water for a year," according to the NRDC. More:

The fashion industry is one of the biggest polluters in China, according to Linda Greer, director of the Health Program at NRDC and Clean by Design creator. NRDC's Clean by Design has a market-based approach to curbing the environmental footprint of the textile industry--which spans from the use of pesticides in cotton production to washing clothes in hot water. The initiative focuses on the textile mills and hopes to use "the purchasing power of well-known brands and retailers," like Walmart and H&M;, "as a lever to reduce the environmental impacts of textile production."

Walmart agrees that the mills selected to implement NRDC's program will provide benchmark data on water and energy use at the start of the assessment and will track and verify reductions they achieve.

According to the NRDC, the NRDC's recommendations can also eliminate "nearly 1 million metric tons of CO2 annually, approximately the same amount of emissions from 172,000 cars per year."

Will the NRDC's cleaner recommendations cost China's textile mills?
Not in the long run: The recommended practices--which range from installing electricity meters to reusing rinse water--can pay for themselves in less than eight months. The NRDC case study at Redbud textile factory--a Walmart supplier--in Changshu, China has shown an investment of $72,000 is accruing savings of $840,000 annually. View images from the NRDC's visit to Redbud factory, below.

nrdc clean by design photo

Image courtesy of NRDC.
dyes nrdc fabric design

Fabric dyes. Image courtesy of NRDC.
nrdc clean by design steam waste black dye

Steam waste, black dyeing process. Image courtesy of NRDC.
nrdc fabric dyeing printing mill

Image courtesy of NRDC.

In addition to Walmart and H&M;, other retailers and brands have jumped on board with the NRDC's Clean by Design project, including Gap, Levi, Nike, Marks and Spencer, and Li and Fung, a large Hong Kong sourcing firm. The NRDC is calling for other major companies in the apparel industry to join them. For more information on the NRDC's Clean by Design project, visit their website.

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