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Get your green pants here - 7 August 2008
A Sri Lankan firm says it has the world's first carbon-neutral clothes factory
AT A SPANKING new lingerie factory in Thulhiriya, a short drive from Colombo, Sri Lanka's capital, senior managers wear T-shirts. This is not because MAS Holdings, the country's biggest apparel company, which recently opened the factory, is a dress-down sort of a firm. It is because the factory has no air-conditioning. Instead it uses evaporative cooling, which leaves the workplace around four degrees hotter than air-conditioning would—but uses much less energy.
The factory has many energy-saving features. Its carefully designed windows provide enough natural light for workers stitching bras. Its turf roofs provide a cooling shade. Overall it uses 40% less energy than an ordinary factory of the same size. And the electricity it uses is from renewable sources: 90% from a hydro-power plant and 10% from on-site solar panels. MAS reckons it has built the world's first carbon-neutral clothes factory.
It was built at the instigation of Britain's biggest clothier, Marks & Spencer (M&S), which contributed £200,000 ($400,000) towards the cost of the solar panels and design. The “green” underwear that MAS is now making at the factory for M&S will reach British high streets in June, and will cost no more than existing garments.
For MAS, which had revenues of $700m last year, the “eco-factory” began as a branding experiment. Sri Lanka's textiles firms, which account for 67% of the country's industrial production, have higher costs than others in Asia, so they pick niches. MAS, for example, has grown by 20-30% a year over the past two decades by concentrating on complicated, high-value garments, such as lingerie for Victoria's Secret, an American apparel brand. In addition, MAS sells itself as an “ethical” employer—it certainly employs no children to stitch racy smalls for Victoria's Secret. Similarly, the eco-factory helps to tie in an image-sensitive client.