While we need the industrial sector to be a major driver of our growth, it cannot be at the expense of the environment. It is not a question of one or the other. Though we are justifiably proud of our garment industry (RMG), worrying signs have emerged about some harmful consequences of its growth. The sector is the largest employer and contributes significantly to the growth of the economy. However, it is also responsible for contributing 1.40 crore tonnes of carbon dioxide emission annually and consumes 60,000 litres of water. These facts were shared by ActionAid Bangladesh, in a recent seminar titled “Voices and solutions: Achieving growth through sustainable production and consumption in the fashion industry”. The entire RMG supply chain is adding to pollution of air, water and soil.
The reality is that environmental degradation continues in full swing in the absence of the proper enforcement of anti-pollution laws that gives polluters a free run to continue business-as-usual. Unless this is done, the economic tradeoff for pollution—in terms of a disruption of marine ecosystems due to toxic wastewater resulting in depleting fish population or reduced cultivability of the agricultural lands—cannot be halted.
While industry proponents state that the industry is in the midst of technological upgrades including installation of state-of-the-art environment-friendly machines, it is obvious that this is not a sector-wide endeavour and there is much more to be done. One does have to contend with the fact that the RMG sector will have to pump in massive investments to make their factories environment-friendly and this will require government incentives in the form of soft loans and easing up of tariffs on equipment that help make factories more efficient. We want industrial growth while avoiding adverse effects on the environment.