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Wednesday October 20th, 2021

Sri Lanka fabric park for ‘greener’ apparel with transparent supply chain

ECONOMYNEXT – A purpose-built industrial park in Eravur, in eastern Sri Lanka under tight environmental rules and low carbon emissions will produce a ‘greener’ fabric raw material trail that is transparent to final buyers, officials said while existing industrial zones are being spruced up.

Using fabric and material produced at the Sri Lanka park will provide “end-to-end visibility in the whole supply chain.”

“So, we can have and give a guarantee that this is an ethically sourced product to the buyer,” Sanjaya Mohottala, Chairman of Sri Lanka Board of Investment said at the launch of ‘A Road Map to a Greener Apparel Sector in Sri Lanka’.

“Secondly, by bringing the activity to one location we can have high-quality treatment plants, water recovery; learn from each other new technologies to reduce water consumption, experiment new things, shared facilities thereby reducing the carbon footprint, water usage and all the other aspects.

“Also having fabric localized in Sri Lanka will reduce the need and current practices of flying in fabric from countries like China, Taiwan, Indian or Korea; again, reducing the carbon footprint.”

The report was published by HSBC Sri Lanka and International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to promote greener manufacturing processes with a focus on small and medium-sized apparel firms.

“The SME companies, in particular, will be the beneficiary of the findings when those thoughts could be converted to a bankable proposal,” Tuli Cooray, Secretary-General, Joint Apparel Associations Forum said.

The report contains findings from an 18-month study and recommends 12 areas that the apparel sector has to focus to make it more eco-friendly.

These include renewable energy, zero-discharges, science-based targets, circularity, and ‘sustainable’ financing.

“The long-term sustainability of the apparel sector, especially in the post-covid-19 era, requires a transformational change to meet the demands by the global brands to reduce energy, water and chemical footprints,” Ananda Mallawatantri, Country Representative, International Union for the Conservation of Nature said.

“Supported by the Government consistent policy commitment, high level of compliance by the industry and extensive stakeholder coordination the Sri Lanka apparel sector could meet these challenges and
be competitive.

“In doing so the benefits would extend to other economic sectors too by raising the environmentally friendly image of the country.”

Supply Push and Market Pull

Sri Lanka exports apparel worth five billion dollars and imports cotton, knitted and crocheted fabric.

Mohottala says Sri Lanka caters to a high-end market whereas countries like Bangladesh supply day-to-day wear low-value items.

The categories it caters to are sportswear, lingerie, loungewear, bridal wear, workwear, swimwear and children’s wear.

“These consumers are increasing awareness or are environmentally conscious,” Mohottala said.

“So they are in one way ensuring or asking the brands to make sure that they source in environmentally friendly value chains.

Sri Lanka already has a good image in the global market as one of the most ‘ethical’ sourcing destinations but is strengthening its brand as an environmentally friendly one.

There is a two-way push and pull happening he says a pull for environmentally friendly products from consumers and a push from the legislative side.

“There is a pull happening from the consumer side and there is a push happening from a legislative point of view,” Mohottala said.

“If you look at what European Union has done in the recent past it has companies of EU to look for a certain amount of renewable energy component in the products they import.

“We saw these trends early on and took steps towards making sure Sri Lanka is in that vertical.”

Sri Lanka will also have to get ready for recycling which will come soon.

“I think one of the bigger trends that are coming on top of this is repurposing used fabrics or recycling,” Mohottala said.

“So once that comes with some of the new technologies, we as a country will be ready to ride that wave as well.”

Broader Zone Push

The BoI has 13 industrial zones and new ones are being been added. These zones contribute to about 80 per cent of all industrial exports of the island.

The new Eravur zone was purpose-built with the most advanced environmentally friendly technology available.

The Board of Investment is also upgrading its older industrial zones and experimenting with new processes to deal with waste and meet or exceed standards.

The upgrading of wastewater plants has been Horana, Seethawaka, Koggala and Katunayake have already been completed, Mohottala said.

“We are already in the process of augmenting and upgrading wastewater treatment plants in our zones to make sure that we meet all the environmental regulations requirements or even exceed,” Mohottala said.

“There’s a new trial we are doing, once we do the wastewater there is a sludge that is accumulated, in the past some of this sludge was disposed of in dump yards.

“We have taken initiatives to find new mechanisms for the use of this sludge whether it is an alga, fuel for certain furnaces or even use as a brick for certain industries or mix it with a bio-mat mask to use something like coal.”

Attempts at water recovery are also underway with firms in With Joint Apparel Association Forum.

“At the end of the day, I think it’s no longer social responsibility,” Mohottala said.

“The companies who really take environmentally sustainable sourcing or environmentally sustainable production seriously inherit happier workforce but also expand their margins.

“It is no longer a cost item but actually a mechanism to differentiate, a mechanism to have more survivability, and in a cutthroat industry to have a mechanism to expand profitability by upgrading yourself in the value chains.” (Colombo/June30/2021)

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