Can China Go Green?

The good news: both the Chinese government and the Chinese garment manufacturing industry are making some serious efforts to clean up their production processes, according to a recent story by the South China Morning Post. The bad news: factories partaking in the clean up are having a very hard time remaining profitable while doing so.

As the story notes, China’s President Xi Jinping has prioritized environmental issues, and, “[as] a result, clothing manufacturers have found themselves under increased scrutiny, and new rules have forced them to invest in greener machinery and technologies.”

The story provides a number of examples of “companies [that] are working hard to respond to changing consumer attitudes and tighter environmental laws and regulations,” including one notable factory in Dongguan, TAL Apparel, a maker of shirts for Brooks Brothers, Burberry, and J. Crew, among others, who has installed a $1.5 million water treatment facility on-site, and by doing so, cut their water consumption by about 40 percent.

Unfortunately, the expense of those updates has increased TAL’s costs overall, and in response, they’ve had to move their trouser production to Ethiopia, home to some of the lowest wages on the planet, in order to stay appealing to western brands. And that raises the question of just how much of the responsibility for these upgrades falls on the companies that are contracting with the factories?

“We can’t be sustainable if our clients don’t allow us to be sustainable,” Christelle Esquirol, vice president of sustainability at TAL, said. “[If] you want to run operations with proper wastewater treatment processes, with everything that requires hardware investment, it’s not going to come with a one-dollar T-shirt.”

One step forward, two steps back.

You can read more about it at the South China Morning Post.

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