Climate change: High time for Indian textile, clothing industry to contribute significantly
One of the main reasons why the industry is not doing enough for the environment is that many big or small companies are struggling to survive as the Indian fashion industry has plenty of challenges
We must ask ourselves that as a part of the industry or even as a common man, what we are doing or can do to support sustainability and save mother earth. We can do this by opposing fast fashion and buying less.
FOR Indians, past few days were really important from the environment point of view. During the recently concluded COP26 conference, India announced its five-point agenda 'panchamrit' (nectar elements) which also includes an ambitious target to achieve net-zero emissions by 2070. At the same time post-Diwali, pollution was again a serious concern for Delhi-NCR as Delhi and nearby 9 other cities as air quality was in 'severe' zone. The air quality index (AQI) clocked at 533.
Climate change is an important issue for decades and similarly pollution too, but have you noticed any significant change, especially in your neighbourhood or city, apart from a few small or time-bound initiatives.
Like us, many leaders, as well as activists, reiterate that enough is not being done to fight climate change and whatever is being done, the majority of that is just greenwashing. And much more needed to be done on an urgent basis. The reason is simple. Emissions are rather on the rise. Let's take the example of the fashion (textile and clothing) industry which is in the top 5 most polluting industries across the globe.
There are reports suggesting that in 2010 textile and clothing sector contributed to 5.23 per cent of total global GHG emissions. It further increased to 7.25 per cent in 2020 and is now expected to reach 9.5 per cent by 2030.
And this is despite all efforts towards being responsible, green and sustainable. Top global brands, retailers and manufacturing companies every year issue their detailed sustainability reports and also push to their supply chain partners to become more sustainable. Hundreds of companies, from retailers to manufacturers, are improving from the very beginning of raw materials like fibre stage to banning the use of harmful chemicals, green process across manufacturing stage, and packaging to logistics. But all this is not enough, as we need more and urgent efforts.
And now in post-Covid era when health is the top priority for all, it is high time the number and momentum of efforts increased for being truly sustainable. Society is also raising strong questions on the fashion industry like just a few months back, Greta Thunberg has urged for a system change in the fashion industry.
When we see our country, where has fashion industry valued at around $130 billion, I strongly feel that industry is divided into two segments - organised and unorganised.
The organised sector has a good or at least reasonable scale of operations. The majority of the companies in this segment are also focusing on being sustainable and they are following their global clients and competitors. A few of them have gone for green factories too. But at the same time, a big chunk of this segment is doing only which is unavoidable. They have complete know-how that how and where they can contribute their best to mother earth. But their efforts are totally buyer-driven (especially those catering to overseas markets). In the majority of such organisations, there is no push or motivation to take care of the environment along with their business.
In the unorganised sector, it is very sad that still, the majority of the Indian fashion industry doesn't even exactly know what is sustainability all about. As they don't have any push from their clients for green practices, their maximum efforts are to save lights at their production units or to follow whatever is must as per the law of the land. Even small efforts for minimising wastage or material and resources across the production and maximum use of sunlight can help them contribute significantly toward a clean environment.
Regular news regarding the activities of the National Green Tribunal, states' Pollution Control Boards with regard to textile industry shows that on the ground there is much more to be done.
In both segments, hundreds of companies' promoters don't even know what the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are and how they can contribute to achieving these goals.
One of the main reasons why the industry is not doing enough for the environment is that many big or small companies are struggling to survive as the Indian fashion industry has plenty of challenges. And a large chunk of these challenges is out of their control so one can understand that how and why issues like climate change will top their priority list. They are moving slowly as initially sustainable initiatives have their own financial cost and it takes a reasonable time to start saving after this investment.
To increase their efforts, they need funds and assurance from clients that efforts for being green will be supported in terms of more business too. The government is already supporting such causes as it is helping them attract fresh investment and get foreign buyers. Various state governments have norms and subsidies for Common Effluent Treatment Plant, Zero Liquid discharge, solar energy and rainwater harvesting. Now governments have to think about how they can support more categorically to sustainable aspects. Indian industry can also work in the ways like companies in the western world has explored sustainability-linked bond (SLB) and got good fund for their green initiatives. There is a dire need to increase 'Socially Responsible Investing (SRI) in India's textile and clothing industry.
Business is about to think from long term future and various development taking place shows that if an organisation is not serious about sustainability, there is no future at all. Just a few days back major investors have warned the world's top four audit companies they will vote to stop the firms working for the companies they invest in at AGMs from next year if audits do not integrate climate risk.
We must ask ourselves that as a part of the industry or even as a common man, what we are doing or can do to support sustainability and save mother earth. We can do this by opposing fast fashion and buying less. I know for the majority of people, it is very difficult as we love celebrations but when there is a humungous challenge to save the society, we have to make sure our contribution in this. Greta herself said that she last bought a new item of clothing 3 years ago and that too was second-hand one.
People, Planet and Profit are the three pillars of sustainability and to win the ongoing fight against climate change. These trio aspects are well interconnected and industry has to work equally for them, then only it can contribute to sustainability. Entrepreneurs and all stakeholders have to do their best for this.
(The author owns a garment manufacturing setup in a rural area, which employs mostly women workers.)