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Made in Vietnam: Revolutionizing Sustainable Textiles and Apparel

CEO Tinh Phung
The textile and apparel industry in Vietnam is undergoing a remarkable transformation towards sustainability. The Vietnam Textile and Apparel Association (VITAS) and World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Vietnam have joined forces to spearhead this project, which...

The textile and apparel industry in Vietnam is undergoing a remarkable transformation towards sustainability. The Vietnam Textile and Apparel Association (VITAS) and World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Vietnam have joined forces to spearhead this project, which aims to revolutionize the industry by implementing sustainable practices. With a focus on the Mekong and Dong Nai deltas, where more than half of Vietnam's apparel factories are situated, this initiative seeks to enhance water and energy management within the sector.

By introducing better river basin governance to improve water quality, the project also aims to elevate the sustainability profile of Vietnam's textile and apparel industry. This holistic approach promises to generate significant social, economic, and conservation benefits for the country. Building upon the success of a similar project funded by HSBC Bank in China, Bangladesh, India, and Vietnam, this collaboration will further pave the way for a more ethical and responsible industry.

According to Vu Duc Giang, Chairman of VITAS, this project comes at a pivotal moment when the textile and apparel industry must embrace higher environmental and social standards. Recognizing the global demand for ethical business practices, he emphasizes the urgency of transforming Vietnam's industry. Despite being the fifth largest exporter of apparel goods worldwide, Vietnam has primarily been known for its low-cost production and limited environmental standards. However, without adopting sustainable practices now, the country risks losing its competitive edge.

Marc Goichot, WWF-Greater Mekong's Water Lead, envisions a future where factories, industrial parks, and all stakeholders collaborate to address risks and impacts beyond their immediate scope. This collective action will foster greater responsibility in shared resource management and generate positive change across sectors.

Environmental Footprints

Countries like Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, and Vietnam have strategically invested in the textile and apparel industries, leveraging their young populations, low-cost labor, and abundant natural resources. However, the textile industry's energy and water consumption throughout the value chain and product lifecycle have raised concerns.

From processing raw materials to production, logistics, sales, and marketing, energy and water play critical roles. Different fibers, whether renewable (such as cotton, bamboo, or silk) or non-renewable (like petroleum-derived polyester), have varying water and energy footprints. For instance, polyester garments, derived from petroleum, account for over 70 percent of the total energy consumed during production. On the other hand, cotton products require substantial energy during the post-retail phase, driven by consumer usage. Cotton is also known for its high water intensity, making it one of the most water-intensive agricultural crops.

The textile industry's energy consumption contributes to the national greenhouse gas (GHG) budget, making it a significant contributor to climate change. Moreover, the industry's water footprint involves excessive consumption and the release of untreated or improperly treated chemical effluents into waterways, posing further environmental risks. Additionally, the industry generates a substantial amount of solid waste, including fabric waste.

Made in Vietnam: Sustainable textiles and apparels Made in Vietnam: Sustainable textiles and apparels

(Image source: Various sources)

Chinese Greening Efforts

China, facing its own environmental challenges such as polluted rivers, water scarcity, and air pollution, has taken significant steps to green its textile and apparel industry. This sector, responsible for over 50 percent of global fabric production, has witnessed tangible improvements through the adoption of simple greening and efficiency measures. According to a report by the United States-based Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Chinese textile mills serving renowned brands like Levi Strauss, H&M, Target, and Gap collectively save $14.7 million annually.

With an increasing awareness among consumers about ethical and environmental standards, enterprises must enhance their practices or risk losing out to global competition. Vietnam, with its commitment to sustainable transformation, can take inspiration from China's lead. By prioritizing greening measures and fostering collaboration between authorities and industry players, Vietnam can establish itself as a trailblazer in the global textile and apparel industry.

In Conclusion

The collaboration between VITAS and WWF Vietnam marks a crucial milestone in the journey towards sustainable textiles and apparel in Vietnam. By promoting responsible water and energy management and embracing higher environmental and social standards, Vietnam's industry can secure its competitiveness in the global market. The successful greening efforts in China demonstrate that change is not only possible but also financially beneficial.

As consumers become increasingly conscious of sustainability, the demand for ethical and environmentally friendly products will only grow. Vietnam has the opportunity to create a future where sustainable practices are the norm, benefiting the environment, society, and the economy. With dedication and collective action, the "Made in Vietnam" label can be synonymous with sustainable textiles and apparel, setting a new standard for the industry worldwide.

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