By  on April 23, 2008

HONG KONG — The heads of a dozen of Hong Kong's leading fashion firms gathered Tuesday to launch the Sustainable Fashion Business Consortium and details emerged about the targets the group has set.

In addition to reducing waste through recycling fabric and a 20 percent reduction in energy consumption, SFBC chairman Pat-Nie Woo said the group has set carbon trading as part of its agenda.

Woo, who is also director of denim maker Central Textiles, presented a list of commitments the SFBC is making and enumerated the consortium's goals.

"Many brands are already requesting carbon labeling," said Woo, describing clothing tags that would inform consumers of the carbon used in creating each garment. "We're working with the WWF [formerly the World Wide Fund] to develop a low-carbon measuring program for our industry. The WWF in Hong Kong is their only office in the world using such a program because so many goods come from the Pearl River Delta, so it makes sense to focus on the PRD and share our findings."

The Pearl River Delta has long been China's manufacturing hub, but is plagued by severe pollution, and the government has urged factories to relocate in the country.

The SFBC said the reduction of carbon emissions will assist firms in turning a profit, as well as help the environment.

"Everything is leading to carbon trading," said Woo, who thinks that many European countries, struggling to meet the demands of the Kyoto Protocol on reducing global pollution, will buy carbon credits from the East. "[When] we save energy in our factories, it can be turned into credits. We can develop sales and purchase agreements to build the business of selling carbon to the developed world. It's very new and very exciting. It's already happening."

Christine Loh, chief executive officer of the think tank Civic Exchange and a former member of Hong Kong's Legislative Council, said carbon trading looked to be a solid game plan.

"It's not just cutting costs, it becomes an asset, a capital source," Loh said. "The first people to adapt will be the first to benefit."

Woo said the SFBC is looking into certification of sustainable textile production through the Control Union, a Rotterdam-based international group of companies specializing in independent cargo surveying and certification of systems, services, processes and products.He noted that a seminar on stainability to be held jointly with U.K.-based retail consortium RITE, or Reducing the Impact of Textiles on the Environment, will take place early next year in Hong Kong. RITE's members include Marks & Spencer, Timberland and Levi Strauss & Co.

"What's interesting is that these companies are already doing what they've promised to do, but quietly," Loh said. "Instead of just telling their customers, they're coming out. By making public this commitment, they are showing leadership. If manufacturing gets cleaned up, it's good for the industry, good for Hong Kong, good for China and good for the world."

Woo added, "Only by doing this can we change from being perceived as a sunset industry to becoming a first mover, from being low-value to low-impact. Only then can we attract new talent to our industry. And we need everyone's support because it's not just about us. It's about the future."

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