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How a Sri Lanka-based apparel manufacturer for brands like Lululemon is incorporating and funding sustainability initiatives

Erica Sweeney   

How a Sri Lanka-based apparel manufacturer for brands like Lululemon is incorporating and funding sustainability initiatives

  • MAS Holdings is an apparel manufacturer for brands like Lululemon and New Balance in Sri Lanka.
  • The company committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 25.2% and is already making strides.
  • Initiatives so far include generating renewable energy, eliminating waste, and reducing water usage.

While the fashion industry emits some 2 billion metric tons of greenhouse gasses a year, Sri Lanka-based MAS Holdings is taking action.

A manufacturer for big brands like Lululemon, New Balance, and Thinx, the athleisure and intimate apparel purveyor has made major public commitments, like reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 25.2% by 2025.

"We're trying to buck the trend and really be the difference and the change in the industry," Sid Amalean, the head of sustainable business at MAS Holdings, told Insider.

In January, the organization launched MAS Plan for Change, which outlines goals for improving operations by 2025 in three focus areas: products, lives, and the planet. MAS also signed onto the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi), a multi-organization partnership that helps private-sector companies set emissions targets, track progress, and see how they compare to others in their industry.

Founded in 1987 and currently employing more than 100,000 people, the manufacturer has facilities in 15 countries, including Kenya and Mexico, and brought in $2 billion in 2018.

Amalean said the company is financing the climate-action work through debt, general revenue, and an independent nonprofit, MAS Foundation for Change, that the company set up in 2022 to fund long-term, large-scale projects with no return on investment, like building a water reservoir at its headquarters. Under its master plan, MAS has also committed to having 85% of its suppliers and all of its joint-venture investments adopt science-based targets.

The investment is worthwhile and will build brand equity, resonate with consumers, and help the planet, Amalean added. "Just setting aside the obvious social and environmental reasons to be doing this, even if you're just a 100% business-minded and profit-minded, it still makes sense."

Other manufacturers like South Korea-based Hansoll Textile have also pledged to reduce carbon emissions and create more sustainable products by 2030, and more than 130 brands signed the Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.

Making progress on sustainability through inclusivity, renewable energy, and waste management

Even before launching the Plan for Change, MAS was dedicated to social and environmental causes, Amalean said.

In 2003, they launched Women Go Beyond to address skills gaps for female workers in Sri Lanka and create gender equality in the business. Now 22% of management positions at the company are held by women. Initiatives like these or biodiversity restoration, where there's absolutely no clear revenue source, are considered operational expenditures or a cost of doing business.

The company also aims to promote inclusivity, fair wages, and safe workplaces and offers childcare at 20 of its 50 facilities.

Generating more renewable energy than it consumes is a central part of its sustainability initiative, and as of December 2021, 57% of the company was running on renewable energy sources.

MAS recently completed the first phase of project Photon, the largest multisite solar rooftop installation in Sri Lanka. It features 48,000 solar panels spanning one million square feet and generates enough electricity to power 14,000 homes. Amalean said it was funded using 70% debt and 30% private equity investment, totaling about $12 million for 16 megawatts. More phases are in the works, he added.

For initiatives like solar projects that have a positive net present value (NPV), it's relatively easy to find financing options, Amalean said. Banks are more willing to lend when there's a clear recurring revenue and associated payback period.

Eliminating waste is another goal. Amalean said MAS monitors and tracks waste at its facilities and strives to divert most of it from landfills. More than 40% of nontoxic, nonhazardous waste materials are recycled, reused, or turned into new resources.

MAS has also reduced water usage in manufacturing by 39% through rainwater harvesting, water-free dying processes, and reverse osmosis water filtration to reuse wastewater, Amalean added.

Promoting accountability in the supply chain and measuring success

In 2021, MAS generated 21% of its revenue from sustainable projects — the goal is 50% by 2025. Amalean said the company is also focused on sourcing recycled, organic, natural, and responsibly-sourced raw materials, making its design and manufacturing processes more efficient, and using post-consumer waste to create new products.

Additionally, MAS is requiring suppliers to comply with the Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals program, a fashion industry initiative to eliminate harmful chemicals from the supply chain. Suppliers are "strongly encouraged" to sign up for the Higg Facility Environmental Module assessment, Amalean said, and MAS tracks suppliers' progress using FEM and other tools, including CleanChain and Scivera.

MAS's sustainable business team of about 15 works companywide to ensure its own planet-focused progress, Amalean said, and uses a customized calibration tool to track how each facility is meeting environmental targets. Different facilities are at different stages, he added.

While Amalean's team leads the company's climate-action initiatives, everyone in every department has sustainability goals.

"Everybody's thinking about it and motivated to be sustainable," he said. "Otherwise, we get into silos and it's like, 'Oh, the sustainability team over there, they want us to do things.' There's no they and him and her. Everybody's doing this together."


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