One of my favourite quotes goes something like this: "The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil but by those who watch them without doing anything." The quote is by Albert Einstein and was made with reference to how easy it is for tyrannical leaders to take power and wreak havoc.
I believe this quote has much relevance to the world we live in today and, particularly, how our planet is being destroyed while people stand by idly.
Climate change and sustainable development is, as I keep saying, the most pressing challenge the world faces right now. The hysteria around the coronavirus pandemic is a red herring. Viruses are nothing new, and one day we will have a vaccine for it.
Climate change, on the other hand, is an existential crisis. We address it this century or that's it—there is no second chance. There is no plan B other than to tackle this issue head on.
The problem is that we all seem to think climate change is somebody else's problem. It is also a problem which is creeping up day by day, hour by hour, which means few of us seem to grasp the urgency of the situation we are facing.
As an industry, the tendency of the ready-made garment sector in Bangladesh has been to look elsewhere for leadership. Many of us look to governments and global leaders. But think about it: what can governments do in reality? It is not governments that are making the world heat up. It is us—people, industries, businesses. Governments are there to regulate and they can certainly send out the right messages (or the wrong messages in the case of leaders such as President Donald Trump who tends to dismiss climate issues).
Ultimately, however, the hands of governments are tied. They can only provide a regulatory framework, and even then there is a limit to how much impact regulation can have. Moreover, it is very difficult to implement regulations that make much difference, and it often takes years, whether that be within a country such as Bangladesh or within a continent such as the European Union. The pace of change, where regulation is painfully slow and takes time, is one we simply cannot afford as a planet.
My point is that the solution when it comes to climate change and sustainability lies in our own hands—it is up to me and you.
We must start within if we are going to fix this problem. We must all play our part. As a key driver of climate change, we garment manufacturers have a bigger part to play than most. The technologies we invest in today will decide how green the world is tomorrow—it really is that simple. And we can't afford, as manufacturers, to leave it to others to invest in greener technology. All of us must play an equal part and not leave it to so-called leaders in our industry.
Stick with non-renewable, carbon-intensive energy sources, and the problems our planet faces will not go away. They will get worse. Refuse to investigate new recycling technologies with a view to incorporating them into the work we do, and our industry will remain dependent on virgin fibres which, as we all know, are not sustainable. Choose not to look at how we can save and harvest water during every step of the garment production process, and the huge water scarcity issues our world faces will only become more pronounced. What you and I do now is what will make the difference for our industry and the planet.
There are many apparel industry initiatives around "greening supply chains" but why wait to join one of them? Why not press ahead and green your own factory? Often, there is a very quick return on investment in areas such as water and energy saving.
I accept many factories have little spare money right now to invest in new equipment, so for that reason we need more government support in terms of both direct grants and helping manufacturers to access low-interest finance. It is in the interests of our own government to help our manufacturers become greener, as our customers are all sending the same message—in future, they will only work with factories that are investing in renewables. We cannot, as a country, afford to wait for fashion industry initiatives—we must press ahead ourselves. Time is running out and, in any case, these initiatives are often small scale and cover a handful of suppliers.
My broader message here is that we all have a small part to play—together, we can have a huge impact. The solution really does lie in our hands, as the world's second largest garment manufacturing hub. That scale places enormous responsibility on our shoulders, and we must carry this responsibility wisely to lessen our impact on the planet collectively.
As individuals, we cannot continue to stand by and assume somebody else will come to our rescue. We have all, as individuals and businesses, played our part in getting us into this situation and must all now play a role in getting us out of it.
Mostafiz Uddin is the Managing Director of Denim Expert Limited. He is also the Founder and CEO of Bangladesh Denim Expo and Bangladesh Apparel Exchange (BAE). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.