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ECONOMY-MAURITIUS: Textile Manufacturing Goes Green and Clean

Nasseem Ackbarally

PORT LOUIS, Oct 31 2008 (IPS) - ‘‘The cost of production is high in Mauritius as we are far away from our main markets. Our island is so small that at times our clients do forget us. We no longer benefit from any trade preferences. We don’t have any natural resources but we have plenty of sunshine and wind and we have decided to use these resources.’’

A technician inspecting the solar panels at RT Knits Ltd. Credit:  Nasseem Ackbarally/IPS

A technician inspecting the solar panels at RT Knits Ltd. Credit: Nasseem Ackbarally/IPS

These are the thoughts that Kendall Tang, director of Richfield Tang Knits Ltd, a factory at La Tour Koenig south of the capital, shared with European buyers recently.

They visited his factory before attending the International Textile Manufacturers Federation’s (ITMF) conference on the theme of a greener and a more sustainable textile industry last month.

Richfield Tang Knits Ltd, or RT Knits as it is known, has devised a new strategy based on green production to reduce its costs of production and to improve its work environment. The company is betting on the availability of the sunshine and the stable direction of the wind 10 out of 12 months yearly.

‘‘Our factory is geared towards the principle of sustainable development and environmental concerns. We want the factory to become energy-efficient by using more renewable energy sources, recycling and using recycled materials, using less water and achieving the lowest carbon emission per garment manufactured,’’ project manager Patrick Koo told IPS.

These interventions will reduce production costs for its investors. It will also mean that its 1,600 employees work in a better environment. And clients will be buying products manufactured in the greenest way possible.

In this 800,000 sq ft factory built on 30 acres of land, the fuel use is reduced, natural lighting is maximised, electricity is produced from the sun and rain water is collected and diverted to the boreholes from where the factory draws its water for production.

Over 150 solar panels have already been installed on the roof of the building and many more will be installed after the dye plants come into operation in a year. Wind energy is used for ventilation and dust evacuation. Non-productive electricity is reduced to the minimum.

‘‘Just by using the sun and the wind allows us to reduce our fuel consumption by 30 percent right now. Our plan is to reduce it further to 50 percent in the near future,’’ Koo enthused, adding that RT Knits is guided by a vision for clean and green manufacturing.

Maximizing the use of renewable energy was planned well ahead of soaring oil prices. For Koo, the rise in oil prices and the government’s project of ‘‘Making Mauritius a Sustainable Island’’ have come together. But, ‘‘whatever the oil prices in the future, our strategy will always aim at promoting and protecting our environment,’’ he assured IPS.

Other factories in Mauritius are following into the footsteps of RT Knits. They are adopting energy-saving technologies; implementing environmental management programmes; and introducing innovative concepts aimed at promoting sustainable development, reduction of carbon emission and clean manufacturing.

At City Textiles, executive director Faisal Parkar points out that the new heat recovery system is helping the factory to save at least 25 percent of its energy consumption. ‘‘At the same time, oil consumption has dropped significantly,’’ he added.

Industrialists say they are aware that the new paradigm today is environmental and social sustainability.

‘‘Textile manufacturing by its very nature has major ecological and social impacts. However, if we want to carry on supplying garments to premier retail organisations and world-famous brands, these impacts have to be reduced,’’ Maurice Vigier de La Tour, general manager of Denim De L’Ile Ltd, told delegates at the ITMF conference.

The Mauritian textile industry has entered a new business era, one of tougher regulations, so it can no longer manufacture products or even provide services without following rigid standards. ‘‘The sustainable development model is becoming the licence to operate,’’ he emphasised.

Vigier de La Tour recalled that customers in the EU and the U.S. are asking factories around the world to sign their terms of engagement (TOE), covering a large number of topics. These include security, health and safety and working conditions of local and foreign workers.

Also included are water treatment, waste disposal and recovery, transporting hazardous material, energy efficiency to ensure lower carbon dioxide emission, preventing storm pollution, domestic sewage and bio-solids management and ground and underground storage.

‘‘Customers are now giving as much importance to social and environmental compliance than to the quality of the product itself, the level of service or the price advantage.

‘‘Factories are being regularly audited and evaluated. If they fail the audit, business can be stopped or never take off,’’ he indicated, citing examples of TOE from Levi Strauss and Marks & Spencer.

Industry minister Dharam Gokhool said Mauritius has got no choice but to promote a clean textile sector as part of its national strategy for a greener economy. ‘‘Otherwise, there will be irreparable loss to the trustworthiness of our industries, developed over years.

‘‘We are also conscious of our own vulnerability to climatic changes and the risks to which we are exposed as a small island developing state so dependent on fossil fuel,’’ he cautioned.

Several initiatives have been taken by the government lately in favour of a clean textile industry. These include regulations regarding industrial waste and effluent discharge regulations and standards scheduled to come into force as from Dec 1, 2008.

Gokhool also mentioned changing consumer attitudes and behaviours in support of green, environmental and ecological marketing. These are no longer fashion fads. ‘‘They form part of a growing global movement in the interest of the planet,’’ he insisted.

Since the textile industry always develops new and innovative products, Salim Ismail, chairperson of Mauritius Export Association (MEXA), estimated that henceforth industries in Mauritius should use material that is low on carbon dioxide emission.

‘‘We have no choice but to adapt to such a strategy if we want the industry to continue. A shift to a low carbon economy opens huge opportunities for value creation while making businesses more competitive through costs savings,’’ he told IPS.

Green and clean textile and garment manufacturing forms part of a greater concept called ‘‘Mauritius, a Sustainable Island’’ (MSI) launched by the government last year. This is an ambitious project aimed at making of the small island an integrated system of energy production, distribution and saving.

Protecting the environment through supporting initiatives aimed at efficient use of energy, recycling of waste and use of renewable energy and helping textile industries in their endeavour to adopt greener technologies are also part of this concept.

Talking to IPS, Joël de Rosnay, special adviser to the prime minister and chief executive of Biotics International, said that sustainable energy is a sine qua non not only for the development but the very survival of the textile industry ‘‘and more so in a small island like Mauritius’’.

Working with this concept, he said that the MSI project is expected to increase the country’s level of energy autonomy by 65 percent in 2028 through efficient use of energy and the production of energy from a mix of renewable sources, such as the sun, wind, biomass and waves.

After having registered a negative growth rate in 2005, the textile sector has been able to bounce back to a peak of 8.5 percent in 2007. Presently, the sector contributes 6.5 percent to the gross domestic product, accounting for almost 11 percent of total employment with a share of 52 percent of exports.

The textile industry has been the life blood of the island’s economy for decades and has helped to transform the island into a middle-income country. Mauritius has thus moved away from being a mono-crop economy to building tourism and information and communication technologies into major economic pillars.

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