Recognising that, Hong Kong-based TAL Apparel, a major manufacturer of shirts and garments for many of the world's best-known clothing brands and fashion retailers, last year adopted a clearly defined two-pronged strategy.
One part looks at promoting sustainability and cutting consumption "within our own four walls", a description that includes 10 plants in five countries across Asia, employing roughly 20,000 workers.
The other, in alliance with some of the biggest corporate names in the apparel, footwear and retail sectors, is to set new benchmarks and agree best practices for progressive implementation around the world.
"Internally, there are 10 things we are asking the company to achieve in three years," says Delman Lee, president and chief technology officer of TAL Apparel, outlining plans for a more sustainable manufacturing process and reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 15 per cent. "People may say it's too little, but it is an initial target to get the interest going and improve understanding in the different countries of what climate change is."
Specific measures include putting custom-designed insulation around machines, installing LED lights, and using infrared cameras to identify "hot spots" in factories where energy can be saved. There is also extra focus on better waste water treatment, recycling of fabric scraps, and using localised meters to monitor and cut power consumption for individual processes.
"Some of it is very basic stuff we should all do, but which we didn't do so well previously," Lee says.
To be methodical, the company does careful testing and checks the benefits of change at one plant before introducing it at others. A framework and management system developed with the help of WWF Hong Kong, an environmental group, provides a basis for certification and a method to measure actual carbon footprints. And the newest factory in Vietnam is being built in line with internationally recognised Lead