Protecting the environment in China like in Europe

Alpinist Stefan Glowacz’s visit focuses on working environments, responsible manufacturing and sustainability in China 

In September 2014, Stefan Glowacz, extreme alpinist, and Bernhard Kiehl, sustainability leader at Gore Fabrics, toured the manufacturing plant of W. L. Gore & Associates (“Gore”) in Shenzhen, China. The purpose of the trip was to better understand the local situation of textile production, working conditions and environmental programs in Shenzhen, China. To this end, Glowacz visited Gore’s production facility as well as one apparel manufacturing company licensed by Gore, Charming Enterprises Ltd. In addition, the climber met with representatives of the local environmental government body, the Shenzhen Futian Environmental Protection Bureau (EPB), to discuss the general environmental challenges in the Shenzhen area. According to CITA, the Clothing Industry Training Association in Hong Kong, it is a priority of the apparel industry in the region to advance the qualification of workers and managers to adapt to the regional trend towards rising wages and a more service oriented economy. Integrating sustainability topics into the training portfolio is consequence of that trend as well as of increasing demand from clothing brands.

Back in February 2014, Glowacz visited the GORE-TEX laminate manufacturing facility in Putzbrunn, Germany. [see here –] In September, heading back home coming from Borneo where Stefan performed a climbing project, he accepted Gore’s invitation to stop by at Gore’s facility in Shenzhen to see firsthand how Gore applies its unique company culture resulting in the same social responsibility and environmental practices as in all its manufacturing plants worldwide. “Since I regularly wear GORE-TEX outdoor apparel and I am a firm believer in the ‘by fair means’ values, I wanted to see for myself that Gore’s commitment to sustainability and responsibility is being put into practice world-wide,” Glowacz explained.


Gore site in Shenzhen

Since 2002, Gore has been manufacturing functional laminates for an array of applications in Shenzhen. The region offers the ideal location for that “In fact, many of our customers produce their garments and footwear in Asia and many of our raw materials are produced here as well. To be close to our customers and in order to reduce transportation and thus also CO2 emissions, we decided to add manufacturing capacity in the region. Of course, we apply our principles of respect for the individual and our global practices for environmental responsibility also at this location, says Bernhard Kiehl.


During the tour of the facility, Martin Wang, General Manager and Simon Liao, Environmental& Safety Leader for Gore Shenzhen, showed Glowacz why Gore was ranked among the twelve “best companies to work for” in China by “Great Place to Work Institute” in 2013. Gore lives a corporate culture that is based on strong values. Kiehl: “Every associate at Gore is expected to live up to these values, acting responsibly, with integrity, and in compliance with the applicable laws and regulations of the countries in which Gore does business. What that means for our fabrics business is defined in our Guidelines on Social Responsibility, in China and across in the world,” Kiehl said.


Same practices in Shenzhen as all other Gore production sites

During the tour of the Gore Fabrics plant, Glowacz saw that the same health, safety and environmental practices found in Putzbrunn, Germany, are also applied in Shenzhen including safe manufacturing equipment, controls for air emissions, energy/CO2 conservation and recycling. Like all of Gore’s fabric manufacturing sites, the Shenzhen plant passed an audit by bluesign® – one of the strictest environmental manufacturing standard worldwide in the textile industry. The Shenzhen facility was also the second Gore Fabrics plant to be certified according to ISO 14001 in 2013. Simon Liao said: “ISO 14001 is a milestone in Gore Fabrics’ environmental program. It shows that Gore is committed to achieving high quality and environmental standards worldwide. We in Shenzhen are proud to be living up to these high standards.”


Influencing the value chain

On his second day in China, Stefan Glowacz also took the chance to visit the production facility of Charming Enterprises Ltd. in Hui Zhou Shi, Gung Dong where GORE-TEX products of many known outdoor brands are manufactured. Stefan toured the campus impressed by safe workplaces and workers dedicated to quality in the multitude of manual steps required to make high performance apparel. After the site tour, Bernhard Kiehl noted: “It is essential to secure the cooperation of those partners that treat their workforce with respect and provide healthy working conditions” and  Stefan Glowacz added: ”It is good to know that Gore actively cares for the product along the value chain and the consistent high quality practices they maintain are very impressive.”


Government’s challenges for implementation of standards

Another highlight during the visit was a meeting with representatives of the local Environmental Protection Bureau (EBP) of the Shenzhen Futian area. Mr. Lai, deputy director of Shenzhen Futian EPB and Mr. Zhou, manager of the supervision department of Shenzhen EPB explained the strategies to improve the environmental situation in the region. Reducing particle matter emissions, controlling waste water effluents were focus areas mentioned. The officials recognized that Gore had received an environmental award in 2013 for being a role model in terms of environmental, safety, and social standards. The EPB follows a plan to only permit companies in sectors that have moderate environmental impact and manage their emissions well. Gore fits well that focus on responsible manufacturers.


CITA provides training and support for Asia

Finally, Stefan Glowacz and Bernhard Kiehl met with Dr. Betty Li, Programme Director of the Clothing Industry Training Authority (CITA). Based in Hongkong, the organization’s role is to educate the manufacturers and suppliers in the greater Hong Kong region on modern manufacturing and management practices, including environmental topics. Providing training on the Higg Index, a shared industry tool to measure the environmental and social performance of apparel and footwear products, is just one example of how this organization keeps its offer current. CITA plays an important role in helping the apparel industry to adapt to the continued conversion of the region from towards higher tech industries, increasing wages and higher qualified jobs. A stronger emphasis on environmentally and socially sound manufacturing and management practices can strengthen the region’s apparel industry’s competitiveness.