The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) has been awarded the 2021 USGBC Leadership Award by the US Green Building Council (USGBC) for green initiatives in the apparel industry.
The BGMEA is the only organisation in the global apparel industry that got the award.
In a media release on Friday, the USGBC announced the awardees from around the world. They were awarded for innovations in sustainability for healthy, equitable, and resilient buildings and communities during a virtual conference on Thursday.
Kutubuddin Ahmed, chairman of Envoy Textiles, the world's first platinum rated denim factory, said this award is a big recognition for the BGMEA.
He said the BGMEA itself also recognises apparel entrepreneurs by awarding them for green initiatives.
The BGMEA has been playing a vital role in negotiating with the National Board of Revenue to bring fiscal policy support for green initiatives, he added.
The USGBC Leadership Award recognises the exemplary leadership of individuals and organisations contributing to the creation of sustainable, healthier, equitable, and resilient buildings, cities, and communities.
BGMEA Director Mohiuddin Rubel said the association supports its member factories for green initiatives in different ways, such as by organising workshops and disseminating information on green and sustainable production practices.
"Also, the BGMEA regularly does policy advocacy with the government for providing low-cost finance and tax benefits for green factories. Because of our advocacy a green factory now pays 10% corporate tax while a conventional one pays 12%," he said.
"A good number of low-cost finance schemes have been formulated by the central bank following the BGMEA's recommendations – such as the green transformation fund and the technology upgradation fund. These helped owners build green factories," he added.
Mohiuddin further said the BGMEA sustainability cell provides free information, advocacy, and suggestions on how factories can connect with mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) engineering consultants, leadership in energy and environmental design (LEED) consultants, green architects, etc.
"Besides, the BGMEA maintains close collaboration with the USGBC to exchange data and information on green factories. It coordinates with certification bodies to smoothen the certification process or provide any other support that member factories may require.
"The BGMEA, in collaboration with the USGBC, organised a number of training and workshops for its member factories to provide them with updated information on technology, machinery, and the best practices," said Mohiuddin, a representative of Bangladesh in the USGBC chief executive officer's advisory council.
The USGBC Leadership Award was given to recognise notable green building projects, companies, and individuals over the last year and also recognise the hard work put forth to create healthy and sustainable spaces. The awards were given based on regions, with six US regions and five international regions.
"This year's USGBC Leadership Award recipients are examples of leadership and innovation of the green building industry," said Mahesh Ramanujam, chief executive officer and president of USGBC.
"Each of our awardees remained committed to their sustainability goals during what has been a challenging year for communities around the world. This year's award recipients are an inspiration and they demonstrate how sustainability, resilience, health and wellness, and equity all play an important role in keeping communities safe and healthy."
Green apparels soaring high
Bangladesh now boasts the highest number of green apparel factories in the world. According to the USGBC, Bangladesh has 143 green factories, of which 40 are platinum rated. Besides, more than 500 are in the process of becoming green.
The country owns nine out of the top 10 environment-friendly garment factories in the world. Not only that, 39 of the top 100 global platinum factories are in Bangladesh.
In May 2012, Bangladesh's Vintage Denim Studio was recognised as the first LEED platinum certified factory in the world.
Apparel entrepreneurs have invested a lot in green initiatives after the 2013 Rana Plaza building collapse, which killed 1,134 people and injured more than 2,000.
Such initiatives helped recover the image of the industry and also the country, said BGMEA President Faruque Hassan. "Our entrepreneurs are investing in green buildings to boost the confidence of international buyers."
Bangladesh's clothing industry has highly prioritised environmental sustainability and has made a tremendous transformation, he added.
Mohiuddin said sustainability has become the reality because non-sustainable products are difficult to sell nowadays.
"That is why sustainability is no longer a choice for entrepreneurs. It is something they must ensure. Green certification is a part of sustainability."
Implementing green initiatives is also the responsibility of an entrepreneur to leave the world a better place for the next generation, he said.
"Entrepreneurs earlier thought that buyers would pay more for products made in green factories but the reality is different. Buyers do not do that. Green initiatives just help companies enhance their image," he said.
Apart from the platinum rating, the USGBC also gives gold, silver, and green ratings as well as mere certifications to garment factories.
Kutubuddin said there is a common allegation against the textile industry that it wastes a huge amount of water, but "we have invested in green initiatives on our own in my factory to make production more environment-friendly, reduce water usage, reuse wasted water, and make the factory energy efficient."
"This process also helps us reduce cost and increase our profit margin. Now we have facilities to recover different types of chemicals and then reuse those."
Fazlul Hoque, managing director of Plummy Fashion, the world's greenest knitwear factory, said the Rana Plaza tragedy had opened his eyes and he then decided to invest in building a green factory to enhance the country's image.
"After that, investing in green initiatives became a trend. For wider implementations of such initiatives, a number of policy changes and support are required."
He also said the government has taken initiatives to make a few changes in the policy but those are not enough to encourage entrepreneurs.
The tax gap between a general apparel factory and a green factory is very low and it is not sufficient to motivate entrepreneurs, said Fazlul, also a former president of Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association.