Bangladesh garment factories strive to reduce carbon footprint

Reyad Hossain
Bangladesh garment factories strive to reduce carbon footprint Workers produce clothing at the 4A Yarn Dyeing Ltd., a factory in Dhaka recognized for its environmentally friendly manufacturing, June 26, 2022.

Bangladesh’s apparel industry has made progress in transitioning to greener production by cutting electricity and water usage as well as reducing carbon emissions in churning out clothes for foreign markets, manufacturers and authorities said.

The South Asian nation is home to the highest number of environmentally friendly apparel factories certified with the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) label by the U.S. Green Building Council, according to a Bangladeshi garments trade group. 

While more than 4,000 garment factories operate in the country, more than 200 have been recognized for efforts to go green over the past decade and some 200 more are working to achieve that designation, the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) said.

Plummy Fashions Ltd., in Kashipur Union, is one of Bangladesh’s top-rated garment factories with a LEED certification.

Managing director Fazlul Hoque said a tragedy a decade ago pushed the company to upgrade its operations.

“After the Rana Plaza collapse in 2013, there was huge negative publicity among buyer countries. I then felt that we have to build our positive image and I started this project which was finally completed in 2015,” he told BenarNews, referring to the country’s deadliest-ever industrial disaster that killed more than 1,100 people.

“We are saving almost 40% of energy, 42% of water and reduced carbon emission by 35% compared to traditional factories by using green-friendly technology and machinery.”

Next to China, Bangladesh is the world’s second largest producer of ready-made garments.

The industry is a main pillar of the country’s export economy, but Bangladesh is also a low-lying nation vulnerable to rising sea waters as a result of global warming, experts said. Lately, the country has also endured electricity outages amid a heat wave. 

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Plummy Fashions Ltd., a garment factory on the outskirts of Dhaka seen here in this May 2023 photo, was awarded the LEED platinum rating in 2015 from the United States Green Building Council for environmental compliance. [Courtesy Plummy Fashions Ltd.]

Plummy Fashions received the LEED’s highest platinum rating in 2015, based on a point system. Lower ratings are certified, silver and gold.

Shamim Ahammed, a local government official who lives near Plummy Fashions, said the area’s reputation has improved because of the company’s green manufacturing efforts, including treating manufacturing waste.

“Waste does not go into canals or rivers,” he told BenarNews, adding “other dyeing and washing plants are also using ETP [effluent treatment processes]. As a result the overall pollution and stench have been reduced somewhat.”

“However, many small-scale factories are not following environmental regulations properly.” 

Abdullah-Al Mamun, a deputy director of the Department of Environment in Narayanganj, a suburb of Dhaka, said his department was monitoring green factories and others for compliance.

“Now in the Narayanganj area, 330 factories, mostly dyeing and washing units are using ETP. As a result, adjacent river pollution has been on the decline,” he told BenarNews.

Still, “some factories are not using ETP regularly, especially during night shifts. It is difficult to monitor them,” he said, adding his department cut electricity and gas connections to about two dozen factories from January 2022 to May 2023 because they failed to meet effluent-treatment standards.

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A video screen tracks production outputs at the 4A Yarn Dyeing Ltd. Factory in Dhaka, June 26, 2022. [BenarNews]

Recycling efforts

With an eye to the future, the apparel industry is also exploring the concept of circular fashion – producing clothing using recycled fibers (including those made from plastics) and fabrics to meet the demands of global buyers.

“Some of our buyers want 20% of their garments to be mixed with recycled fiber fabrics. We are making it by taking fabrics from local textile mills,” Titas Chakrabarty, deputy general manager (head of wash) at Denim Expert Limited, a garment factory in Chattogram, told BenarNews.

Shahidullah Azim, vice president of the BGMEA, said more could be done.

In 2022, Bangladesh produced cotton waste valued at $400 million, most of which was not recycled, he noted.

“But if we can recycle it properly and make new products, there will be a potential of additional $6 billion in exports of RMG,” he said, adding such efforts would “help save our environment.”

“In recent times there have been at least four textile mills invested in the production of recycled fibers and fabrics,” he said.

Apparel manufacturer Beximco Ltd. has been using recycled fibers in its manufacturing process in collaboration with Recover, a Spain-based global producer of recycled cotton fiber and fiber blends.

Recover officials did not immediately respond to BenarNews requests for comment.

Bangladesh’s government is offering incentives for such projects.

In early June, as he presented the government’s proposed 2024 budget, Finance Minister A.H.M. Mustafa Kamal announced the waiver of a value-added tax on fabric waste.

International cooperation

Meanwhile H&M, the largest single buyer of Bangladesh’s ready-made garment products, said it would work to promote an environmentally friendly garment industry. 

On May 31, company CEO Helena Helmersson signed a memorandum of understanding with the BGMEA.

“For a circular and climate-neutral garment sector in Bangladesh, H&M and the BGMEA are working together. Our work goal is to achieve net-zero [emissions] by 2040,” Iñigo Sáenz Maestre of H&M Group Media Relations told BenarNews in response to an email. 

Maestre said proposed initiatives include joint advocacy efforts to create a favorable policy environment for green transition and development of industry-wide policies and practices to scale the recycling of pre- and post-consumer textile waste in Bangladesh.

A BGMEA vice president said these efforts could grow across the industry.

“Other brands are also interested to join and collaborate with us,” Miran Ali told BenarNews.

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The 4A Yarn Dyeing Ltd. factory has posted its LEED platinum-rating on the side of the factory in Dhaka, June 26, 2022. [BenarNews]

Helena Akhter, a Plummy Fashions employee, said she appreciated the factory environment.

“I used to work in a (traditional) factory before joining here – there were two or three fans in one production line (for 70 to 80 people),” she told BenarNews, complimenting her new employer for the air conditioning. “I find it easier to work at Plummy Fashions.”

A multitude of employees – mostly women – who make up the factory-floor workforce in Bangladesh’s RMG sector, work in an industry that is usually notorious for unsafe, harsh and underpaid working conditions.   

Workers at Fatullah Apparels Ltd. in Narayanganj, also spoke highly about their work conditions. The factory achieved the platinum rating in September 2022.

“When I come to work, the factory environment is comfortable,” Asma Akter Koli, 27, told BenarNews, referring to its air conditioning and lighting.

Another worker, Nipa Shikder, 22, said she had been working at a traditional factory.

“I will no longer switch jobs with the same salary at non-green factories unless I am forced,” she told BenarNews.


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