Interview with Ron Beegle

Ron Beegle
Ron Beegle
Corporate Director of Environmental Affairs
Mount Vernon Mills
Mount Vernon Mills

Forbes recently released a list of 100 most sustainable companies in the world, 2014. None of the companies in the list belonged to the textile sector. Is it hard for textile manufacturing and retailing units to practice sustainability in comparison to other industries like information technology, energy, financials, healthcare, etc.?

I don't think it is any harder for textile manufacturing and retailing companies to practice sustainability, at least not in the U.S. However, the burden of proof is often greatest on the manufacturer(s) in the supply chain to demonstrate that a product is being made in an eco-friendly way. And, we find that while the general public may want their products sustainable or environmentally friendly, they hesitate to want to pay more for a more sustainable product. The retailers don't want to pay more for more sustainable products either. This, in part, could be why textile manufacturers are not as eager to market themselves as sustainable. Also, through the [former] American Textile Manufacturers Institute (ATMI) in the 1990's, we were one of the first industries to launch an eco-friendly hang-tag program (Encouraging Environmental Excellence, or E3 Program), but it did not catch on with the retail industry presumably because they did not see the consumer willing to pay more for an eco-friendly garment. I do, however, think this could be changing as the mood to purchase "Made in the U.S.A" seems to be returning.

Do you suppose textile business houses operating in USA can play an adequate role in promoting awareness about this concept in the developing countries? How?

I think they can through active trade associations that promote fair trade, including labor practices, with our representatives in government.

Do you think that sustainable activities are actually increasing in the global textile industry? Or is the pace not up-to-the-mark as for now?

I do think activities are increasing, but some countries have a long way to go. Once the playing field is leveled when everyone has to comply with US EPA-like regulations, I think you'll see a lot of manufacturing return to the U.S. and elsewhere where the major markets are and the advantage of lower wages will be off-set by the high cost of transportation and environmental controls. Plus, the developing countries will have their own populations to serve anyway.

Being a textile and textile products manufacturer, can you explain in which all areas can companies practice sustainability? In the current situation, who do you suppose are better supporters of sustainability -retailers or manufacturers?

As a manufacturer, it makes sense to lessen the cost of regulatory exposure by using eco-friendly raw materials as well as to conserve water, electricity, fuels and other resources that are not getting any cheaper. On a social side, it makes sense to foster programs that help employees live a healthier lifestyle, which translates into fewer injuries and illnesses, less time lost from work, and lower medical costs. Economically, achievements in these areas will improve quality and efficiency and lower overall costs.

Sustainable actions are rewarding to any corporate house. It ultimately increases the overall profitability in a corporate unit. Do you agree or not? Please elaborate your answer.

I agree that sustainable actions can help improve the bottom line when considered in the overall business plan.

Are you a strong supporter of the concept of Made-in-USA clothes? Please explain your answer.

Yes, of course, as a domestic manufacturer of apparel fabric, we strongly support Made-in-USA products.
Published on: 03/03/2014

DISCLAIMER: All views and opinions expressed in this column are solely of the interviewee, and they do not reflect in any way the opinion of Fibre2Fashion.com.

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