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UPDATED: June 17, 2013 NO. 25 JUNE 20, 2013
Green by Design
Chinese campaigns and initiatives improve the environment, one design at a time
By Tang Yuankai

RIDING THE FUTURE: A K9 electric bus made by Chinese automaker BYD parks outside its assembly plant in Lancaster, California, on May 1. The model was a gold medal winner at the World Green Design Forum in May (YANG LEI)

Jun'an, a town in Foshan in south China's Guangdong Province, has long been known as late martial arts actor Bruce Lee's hometown. Now the town is also known as a major jeans manufacturing base. Thirty years after the first jeans production plant was set up in Jun'an, the town is now home to more than 2,000 factories involved in the textile industry and more than 80 percent of their products are exported. "Green jeans" is Jun'an's latest slogan for its textile industry's development.

People often associate the manufacturing of textiles and jeans with low-tech, energy-intensive and high-pollution plants. This was once the case in Jun'an, where most companies were subcontractors without associated brands. With the new slogan, however, the town's textile industry expects to transform and upgrade itself by promoting eco-certification of the design and production process.

Professor Xiao Wenling, Dean of the Department of Textile and Fashion Design at the Academy of Art and Design of Tsinghua University in Beijing, has been hired by Jun'an as a consultant for its transformation.

"Companies in Jun'an have adopted a cosmopolitan perspective of sustainable development to join the "green jeans" initiative. Environmental consciousness should translate into more specific standards and requirements mandatory for the whole industry," said Xiao.

He said that many Chinese textile and clothing makers have taken measures to protect the environment, such as using ozone laundry systems and adopting laser embroidery machines, which conserve energy and reduce emissions.

Sustainability first

Fashion designers, too, are increasingly aware of the carbon emissions released during production and consumption processes of a piece of garment. Professors of Xiao's department have educated their students on ideas of "green design" or "ecological design," which focuses on reducing energy consumption and carbon emissions of the textile industry from its origin.

As early as 2007, the Academy of Art and Design of Tsinghua University started to establish partnerships with top design agencies in Copenhagen, Denmark, which won the European Green Capital Award in 2012. Through such cooperation programs, the academy has introduced advanced ideas like sustainable fashion to China.

At the recent inaugural China Graduate Fashion Week, graduates from Xiao's department displayed their works under the theme "Wake Up," echoing designers' deep reflections on the relationship between man and nature. This series of designs won two of the event's major awards.

"'Green design' is a very broad strategy," said Zheng Shuyang, Executive Vice President of the academy. He said that it concerns the balance between environment and development, the very core of China's sustainable development strategy.

Lu Yongxiang, former President of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, believes that the design of a product determines its environmental impact. He calls for the adoption of green design to minimize energy consumption and waste produced in manufacturing, packaging, transportation and recycling, saying it will help companies achieve healthy profits while reducing their impact on the ecological system.

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