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  • As China has become the epicenter of global manufacturing over the last two decades, its citizens now face rapidly intensifying challenges of air and water pollution, climate change, severe water shortages, and toxic chemical contamination.
  • NRDC launched its Clean by Design initiative in 2009 as an innovative "green supply chain" program to leverage the purchasing power of multinational corporations to reduce the environmental impacts of factories in their suppliers abroad.
  • Clean by Design implemented more than 200 improvement projects at 33 mills in China in 2014, reducing more than 3 million tons of water, 61,000 tons of coal, and 36 million kWhs of electricity, and delivering $14.73 million dollars in total reduced operating costs.

NRDC launched its Clean by Design initiative in 2009 as an innovative "green supply chain" program to leverage the purchasing power of multinational corporations to reduce the environmental impacts of factories in their suppliers abroad. Working with a number of prominent global apparel retailers and brands, we have focused this program first in the textile industry in China, notorious for its energy and water intensity and pollution load.

In late 2013, NRDC launched the effort to bring the successful Clean by Design program to scale. Financially, the program exceeded expectations, delivering $14.73 million dollars (92 million RMB) to the participating mills in total reduced operating costs. Mills invested $17.3 million in total one-time upfront costs to achieve these savings, with a payback time for the whole program of only 14 months.

  • Water savings averaged 9 percent, with the top five mills reducing water consumption by more than 20 percent.
  • Energy reduction averaged 6 percent, with the top five mills reducing energy consumption more than 10 percent.
  • Electricity reduction averaged 4 percent, with the top five mills reducing their electricity by more than 6.5 percent.

Textile Manufacturing: An Industry with a Large Environmental Footprint

Chinese textile manufacturing -- particularly the dyeing and finishing of fabric -- has an enormous environmental impact. It is extremely water-intensive, using up to 250 tons of water for every ton of fabric produced, two or three times higher than that of the highly efficient factories in the industrialized world. Similarly with energy, the industry in China uses nearly 6 tons of coal per ton of product, 2.5 times higher than that of the United States in the 1990s, to generate the large quantities of steam and hot water necessary to dye and finish fabrics.

Textile manufacturing also discharges extremely high volumes of wastewater and pollutant load. The industry ranks third among all industries in China for its 3 billion tons of annual wastewater discharge and second for its chemical oxygen demand (COD) loading, which accounts for nearly 20 percent of total industrial discharge of this contaminant so lethal to fish and aquatic life. Furthermore, the textile industry uses a large variety of toxic chemicals in manufacturing; approximately 25 percent of the chemicals manufactured globally are applied in the textile industry, and China is the largest consumer of textile chemicals in the world.

Clean by Design: A Business Friendly Solution to Reduce Environmental Resources and Save Money

Clean by Design reduces the environmental footprint of textile mills -- particularly energy and water use -- with a business-friendly model that focuses on increasing production efficiencies, which saves the factory money.

The core of Clean by Design is a set of Ten Best Practices to reduce the industry's environmental footprint. Based on initial research by international experts at five Chinese textile mills, and then piloted at a dozen more, the Ten Best Practices are comprised of "low-hanging fruit" opportunities to improve environmental performance. They are easy to implement, low-cost, quick-return, and profitable, and have an established track record of success in other textile mills. Furthermore, the Ten Best Practices are dynamic and routinely updated to reflect the program's ever-expanding implementation experience.

2014: Bringing Clean by Design to Scale

Working with four multinational apparel brand partners -- Target, Gap, Levi Strauss and Company, and H&M -- we took the Clean by Design program to two locations in China with high concentrations of textile mills: Shaoxing City in Zhejiang Province, which has the greatest number of textile mills in China, and the Guangzhou metropolitan area of Guangdong Province. We trained engineers and managers from more than 100 mills to develop their own implementation plans, providing additional expert assistance upon request.

Thirty-three mills that completed the program -- the Clean by Design class of 2014 -- provided initial benchmarking information, hosted expert consultations, submitted implementation plans, undertook improvements, and completed reports that allowed us to fully evaluate their results. More than 90 percent of the 231 individual projects proposed for implementation by the mills were completed in 2014. In total, the program reduced more than:

  • 3 million tons of water,
  • 61,000 tons of coal, and
  • 36 million kWhs of electricity.

The resource reductions and economic returns of the Clean by Design 2014 class reflect permanent improvements that will continue to accumulate in the coming five to ten years and beyond, multiplying their impact substantially.

See report for full results and analysis.

last revised 8/17/2015

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