Just how 'green' is that shirt?
An 'organic cotton' label doesn't make it 'carbon free.' But a new factory in Sri Lanka moves a step closer to that claim.
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With more than 35,000 product lines bearing unique carbon footprints, the cost to Marks & Spencer would be enormous – if indeed the labeling were to be rigorous and accurate.Skip to next paragraph
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"Even if we spend $5,000 on each label," says Barry, "it's going to cost a lot of money to give information to consumers who may not be ready to act on it. So a carbon label might be a part of the solution in the future, but not tomorrow."
"Labels on underwear are small," notes Professor Dickson, "and that's tricky because the tendency then is to boil it down to a simple message. With the environment, there are so many ways it can be impacted in textiles and clothing. They'll have to be real specific in the standards they're trying to meet and it will have to be traceable and verifiable."
The carbon-neutral task is so massive that Marks & Spencer has taken to "hot spotting" – the term Barry employs when discussing the 100 priority commitments the company has outlined in its ambitious Plan A initiative, which includes aiming to make the company's operations in Britain and Ireland carbon-neutral by 2012.
High on this list are "green" manufacturing units and the idea that the first one in Thurulie, Sri Lanka, can serve as a blueprint for others to follow.
The Thurulie ecofactory is owned by MAS Holdings, a powerhouse apparel manufacturer with more than 45,000 employees and 2007 earnings approaching $700 million.
It cost MAS $7 million to build the ecofactory – roughly 25 percent more than a conventional one. For small- to medium-size enterprises, that figure will be an intimidating barrier.
Apart from Marks & Spencer "sponsoring" the architects' design costs, the ecofactory was paid for entirely by MAS – and without any increase in the purchase price of the lingerie made.
Its design – reviewed this past month on a tour with MAS officials – integrates evaporative cooling technology, solar panels and hydro power, with energy-efficient task lighting, low-emissivity glass (which cuts down on heat transfer), and traditional applications such as courtyard design and tree plantings.
But going ethical will eventually cost the consumer more at checkout, warns professor Dickson.
"We pay less and less, from a consumer standpoint, and yet more and more demands are being placed on suppliers to respect labor rights and the environment," says Dickson. "This takes significant investment in [factory] plants and human resources."
How is MAS able to justify making such a substantial up-front investment?
Economies of scale is one answer but so, too, is the fact that MAS will save money on rising fuel costs while better positioning themselves to compete for green-conscious retailers and consumers.