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NRDC Praises China for Reducing Pollution

Often blasted for depleting and contaminating local water supplies, it looks like China’s textile industry is finally cleaning up its act.

A report released on Tuesday by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) applauds the efforts of 33 Chinese textile mills that cut their environmental impact in 2014 as part of the nonprofit’s Clean by Design program.

Launched in partnership with the International Finance Corporation (IFC) last year in Shaoxing and Guangzhou, participating apparel brands included Target, Gap Inc., Levi Strauss & Co. and H&M.

The report revealed not only a reduction in annual water consumption by three million tons, as well as a drop in chemical use (400 tons), electricity (36 million kilowatt hours) and coal (61,000 tons), but also savings of $14.7 million, with a five-year projection of $56.4 million.

Twenty of the mills stated annual savings of more than $150,000, five saved more than $800,000 and a further six banked more than $500,000. Some of the cost-saving improvements made included increasing motor and lighting efficiency and reusing water.

“More and more major apparel brands facing increasing public concern about their environmental impacts are realizing that greening their supply chain is not only crucial for global pollution reduction, it is good for business, too,” said Linda Greer, director of the NRDC’s health and environmental program, in a blog post on the nonprofit’s website.

At present, China produces more than 50 percent of the world’s fabric, totaling more than 80 billion meters annually, and as a result, the textile industry ranks as the country’s third largest discharger of industrial waste water and second largest user of chemicals.

Greer acknowledged that while Clean by Design has proved a smaller environmental footprint can lead to a bigger bottom line, scaling up to include more mills (there are an estimated 15,000 in China alone) won’t be easy. “The fact of the matter is that currently, only a handful of apparel brands and retailers—including the four companies working with us so far—are poised to develop programs that address the impacts of their manufacturing abroad,” she said.

With that being said, NRDC will bring Clean by Design to Suzhou in the Jiangsu Province in 2015 and plans to work with the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, which represents more than 40 percent of global apparel production, to drum up participation.