How the Fashion Industry Is Cleaning up Its Act

NRDC, major clothing brands work together to reduce pollution

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The global textile industry is one of the biggest producers of pollution and greenhouse gas emissions in the world. Given growing worldwide concern about the state of the environment, it was only a matter of time before big apparel brands started doing something about it.

Over the past five years, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has partnered with brands like Gap, H&M, Levi's, and Target to create the Clean by Design initiative, which uses cost-saving measures to lower pollution at third-world textile mills.

Participating mills saved 61,000 tons of coal, 36 million kWh of electricity, 400 tons of chemicals, 3 million tons of water, and $14.7 million in costs.

Now the NRDC's Linda Greer, who oversees the initiative, writes that the organization helped 33 Chinese textile mills clean up their acts in 2013. According to the initiative's report, these mills saved a combined 61,000 tons of coal, 36 million kilowatt-hours of electricity, 400 tons of chemicals, and 3 million tons of water, as well as $14.7 million in costs.

The report notes that savings came from a number of projects based around the initiative's Ten Best Practices, which include: metering and leak detection, condensation collection and recovery, cooling water reuse, process and grey water reuse, heat recovery from hot water, improving boiler efficiency, maintaining steam traps and system, improving insulation, recovering heat from exhaust gas and heating oil, and optimizing compressed air.

Greer writes that, on average, each mill saved $440,000 in the first year by following the initiative's guidelines. But perhaps the best news is that at its annual awards event—which saw certificates given to the 33 mills, as well as the creation of Clean By Design Hall of Fame—the initiative welcomed its next class of mills for 2015.

While it's still a long way from eliminating the pollution created by the industry as a whole, the initiative is certainly an encouraging start. Now it just needs to get more brands and mills on board.

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