ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday April 27, 2008
Vol. 42 - No 48
Financial Times  

‘Green factories’ opening up in Sri Lanka to supply ‘eco-friendly clothing’ to the world

By Dilshani Samaraweera

Two of Sri Lanka’s biggest exporters of clothing - Brandix Lanka and MAS Holdings - opened two ‘green factories’ on Friday, to supply eco-friendly clothing for British retailer Marks and Spencer (M&S). A third green garment factory, by the Hirdaramani Group, is due to open up later this year. This greening of the garment industry is expected to sustain and grow business from big clothing buyers like M&S.

Demand for green

Consumers in the west are increasingly demanding environmentally friendly goods. This is pushing large retailers and big brand names in the west, to look for eco-friendly products. So they are asking suppliers, located in countries like Sri Lanka, to supply environmentally friendly goods. The results are now showing with 3 of Sri Lanka’s biggest garment manufacturers putting money into setting up ‘green’ factories.

Sri Lanka is one of the largest suppliers of clothing for M&S that currently buys around £ 300 million worth of clothing from the island for a year. Given the growing awareness in the UK about environmental impacts of production, the company has announced plans to become carbon neutral by 2012.

As part of this plan, garment factories in Sri Lanka, that are M&S suppliers, “are encouraged” to become more environmentally friendly in their production. For instance, as a means of encouragement, M&S contributed Rs 16 million to convert the Brandix factory into a green factory. M&S will also buy up the total outputs of the MAS and Brandix factories, ensuring that the ‘green clothes’ have a market.

“We encourage our suppliers to become green manufacturers by providing resources in the form of financial sponsorships and technical assistance,” said Paschal Little, Head of Technology for Lingerie and Childrenswear, M&S, speaking at a press conference organised by Brandix on Thursday.

The Brandix and MAS green factories will be the first in the world to supply green clothing for M&S retail outlets.“Brandix and MAS are the first green factories we would be associated with,” said Little.

Greening the bills

The M&S representative says part of the idea behind the ‘green plants’, is to show that going green has direct commercial benefits.“It is important to demonstrate to other suppliers that this sort of investment on green production, is also commercially viable. Especially in the face of increasing global energy costs,” said Little.

Brandix says it is already seeing the benefits of going green, in terms of reduced operating costs. “The conversion cost of the factory was Rs 270 million. This is quite high, but most of the cost was to develop an efficient air conditioning system. We have already seen energy consumption reduce by 43%, water consumption reduced by 58%, carbon emissions reduced by 77% and there is zero waste going into land fills,” said A. J. Johnpillai, a Director of Brandix.

The factory has managed to cut its electricity bills in half, at a time when other manufacturers are complaining of increasing electricity bills. “In the first month itself, electricity costs reduced by 48%. In the second month it went down by 51%. Even the area electricity commissioner did not believe this. They thought there was some sort of irregularity. He finally gave us the bill only after coming and checking the factory,” said Johnpillai.

The working environment has also become healthier for employees at the factory. “Traditionally factories were built like boxes. All covered. This factory is very open with large windows. So 75% of workers will have daylight and 91% will have a view of the outside,” said Johnpillai.

Selling green

M&S hopes to specifically identify ‘green clothing’ in its retail outlets, to make consumers aware of them and to generate more sales of green clothing.“We would like to, at some point, identify products in our stores as coming from green factories. There is a huge and growing awareness in the UK about environmentally sustainable production,” said Little. M&S is also talking to suppliers in other countries to set up more green clothing production units.

“We have started talks with a Chinese partner and also with a partner in Bangladesh,” said Little. In Sri Lanka, with domestic production costs increasing, garment manufacturers are hoping the growing green trend would open up niche markets for the ‘made-in-Sri Lanka’ label.


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