Crisscrossing a spotless factory floor. “This is what we want to deploy in the U.S.,” he says as he walks among some of his 4,500 employees during a November check-in. They rush around him, crisscrossing a spotless factory floor illuminated in part by natural light from transparent panels in the roof.
And the bottom line for all this high-mindedness? Saitex’s green strategy is in the black. The company saves $1.7 million each year compared with similar-size competitors, Bahl says. “It would be quite easy for other entrepreneurs to follow this methodology,” he says, “if they understand that this is profitable.”
Textile mills, cut-and-sew garment factories and denim wash-houses are profitable businesses for thousands of operators all over the world, many of which aren’t all that strict when it comes to saving the planet. The industry is notorious for capitalizing on rock-bottom labor costs and lax environmental standards. Retailers often don’t know the provenance of their clothes because strained factories job out work to smaller plants—where quality control, labor practices and human rights aren’t always priorities.
It’s unclear exactly how much pollution can be attributed to the global garment industry, but there’s universal agreement that it’s a lot. Mountains of fabric scraps pile up at garbage dumps in China, India, Bangladesh and Southeast Asia. Worldwide, such discarded material comes to 92 million tons per year, a number projected to reach 148 million tons by 2030, according to a recent study from the Boston Consulting Group and Global Fashion Agenda.
The use and pollution of water represents an equally colossal problem. The study estimates the industry consumes 79 billion cubic meters of it annually—almost as much fresh water as the Nile discharges into the Mediterranean in the same period.
Though most of that usage comes from growing cotton, garment processing is also water-intensive. Almost all dyes and chemicals are applied to textiles through water baths (with some factories sending the noxious waste back to the water supply). Outside Dhaka, one of the world’s biggest textile hubs, a toxic stench rises from polluted canals and wetlands surrounding an industrial area infamous for a factory collapse that killed almost 1,200 people in 2013.