By Molly Polk Hannon
The late Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid once remarked, “I have always appreciated those who dare to experiment with materials and proportions.” The Queen of the Curve was acutely aware of the numerous risks architects take when testing the waters of erecting new structures, especially when sustainability is involved.
The Vietnam Garments Manufacturing (VNG) is no exception. Recognized and awarded a LEED Standard GOLD certification after its construction in 2017, the global “innofacturer®” and sustainable pioneer TAL Apparel’s nascent garment factory is emblematic of a shift in the fashion industry’s efforts to promote and ensure sustainable measures are upheld, particularly when it comes to the buildings that house their operations – quality garment manufacturing, innovative products and services across stages of the apparel supply chain.
What is LEED?
An internationally recognized green building certification system, LEED is short for “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.” For those unfamiliar with the term, the certification provides third-party verification that a building or community designed is built using strategies aimed at improving performance across all the metrics that matter most when it comes to working with planetary boundaries. These include energy savings, water efficiency, CO2 emissions reduction, improved indoor environmental quality, and stewardship of resources and sensitivity to their impacts.
Push to Greener and Safer Buildings
Since the fateful Rana Plaza Factory collapse of 2013, where 1.134 textile factory workers died, fashion brands have increasingly shifted their focus on the structures where people make their clothing. No longer can working conditions remain a secondary concern, as the tragic accident unfortunately demonstrated. For companies such as TAL Apparel, efforts to further their sustainability journey will include creating greener and also safer buildings.
“It is commonly said that 80% of environmental impacts are created at the design stage. Sustainability cannot be an afterthought,” said Delman Lee, TAL Apparel President & CTO. “When building our newest factory, we wanted to do our best to eliminate future sustainability challenges from the beginning. Building sustainable attributes, such as domestic wastewater recycling facility and natural ventilation systems, creates a positive feedback loop of continuous energy and water savings and allows us to expand production with better efficiency and lower environmental intensity values.”
Having received certification for meeting the LEED requirements in the building design and construction phase, TAL Apparel remains committed to putting environment and people first. As stated on the company’s website, “sustainability is a matter of ownership.” This sentiment guides both the social and environmental impacts of the company’s global operations. Underscoring their strategy to embrace “People, Planet, Profit” hinges on the belief that these three core aspects function like a three-legged stool. If there are only two legs working, then the stool eventually collapses.
Meeting Critical Social and Environmental Performance Targets
LEED GOLD certification is just one of those critical social and environmental performance targets. However, LEED certification functions as more than just a point system for companies striving to increase their sustainability efforts. Instead, the certification provides an overarching sustainability framework for the design, construction, operations, and overall maintenance of new and existing buildings.
Some notable aspects of TAL Apparel’s VNG’s building that illustrate its LEED features completed during both the design and construction phase include improved building energy performance by 29% (from LEED baseline); used zero chlorofluorocarbons (CFC) -based refrigerants; reduced potable water use by 50% through water-conserving fixtures; recycles 80% of its domestic wastewater for use back in the toilets and the rest on gardening; diverted 75% of construction debris from disposal in landfills and incineration facilities; and designed natural ventilation systems to improve indoor air quality.
Having received this certification, TAL Apparel continues to remain a pioneer in sustainability. By doing so, an inspiring example to other companies embarking or still navigating their journey to working within planetary boundaries.