The readymade garments (RMG) sector contributes 12.5 percent to GDP and accounts for 80 percent of our export basket. It is slated to reach USD 50 billion in exports by 2021, but that success comes at the cost of the environment. Discussants at a roundtable organised at The Daily Star on May 20 highlighted the downsides of massive consumption of water in the industry. Every year, the apparel industry uses 1,500 billion litres of water to dye and wash garments which is equivalent to the drinking needs of 800,000 people. While the industry will continue to grow, it must be done in a manner that will reduce use of water and stop wastage of finite resources.
The industry needs to adopt innovative, eco-friendly solutions, much of which already exists, to retrofit factories with machinery that is both energy- and water-efficient. According to a study by the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the country can save 22 billion litres of water, cut down water waste by 18 billion litres and greenhouse gas by 46,000 tonnes in a year. Things are changing in Bangladesh, with at least 85 garment factories officially LEED-certified (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). Thus it makes sense to implement these changes since the European Union is going to become climate-neutral by 2050 and climate-positive afterwards. Hence, should Bangladesh wish to continue expanding its RMG sector, it will have to invest more in making its factories resource-efficient.
The government not only has to enforce rules and regulations that will govern efficiency of water use but also provide funding and a bridge to allow manufacturers access to bank credit. Going green is not just good for protecting natural resources but also makes good business sense as the cost savings from using less chemicals, energy and water offset the investments that need to be made to make factories use resources economically.