The town of Mettupalayam, tucked in the picturesque Nilgiri Foothills, may seem more like a passage to nearby Ooty and Kotagiri, but hidden in the sleepy town is a part of India’s textile history, one of the oldest textile processing companies in South India, UBL (United Bleachers Limited) spread over twelve sprawling acres.
Few people in modern society find value in someone else’s legacy. Learning from existing values, aligning with them and running a successful business enterprise, and creating something that is of value to society. While it sounds most practical but seldom witnessed as reality. Mr Saravanan, Managing Director, United Bleachers Pvt. Limited (UBL) talks about helping build a modern textile organization retaining the original values of the Founders. That this company is a piece of history is something that evokes even more pride in him as he reminisces the legacy of Mr. G.K. Sundaram, the Chairman of Lakshmi Mills. Swastik Group took over the UBL in 1996 from the prestigious Lakshmi Mills group with five decades of experience catering to the textiles, leather, and paper industry.
The company was set up in 1949, and became operational in 1954, and the last six decades have been that of growth and expansion. While the sector witnessed ups and downs, the resilience of the organization is even more relevant for a post-Covid world. Whichever way resilience may get redefined in the 21st century, one thing is certain that at the heart of resilience there will always be effective leadership, transparency & open communication, safe and secure communities, accountability, and innovation along with a focus on adapting and being agile.
USP of UBL
Flexibility in processing, product development, and exclusive work with a client is the core strength and value.
While there are companies that take pride in specializing in one product category, the flexibility in processing allows the company to process different varieties and types of fabrics with ease. This can range from lighter variety muslins to heavier weight blankets and quilt materials. This also allows the company to cater to the institutions and brands.
Very few companies participate in product development. When it comes to sustainability, this comes in handy, suggests Mr. Saravanan. As there is an opportunity to imbibe sustainability at the product development stage.
What would look more like a value but becomes a USP is that UBL does not work on similar product for another client once the product is developed for one client.
Values that built resilience
The company management values transparency in relationships with not only clients but also employees and suppliers.
Employees: About 350 employees are fully engaged. It is because of the relationship with employees that the company did not waste any time during the second lockdown period and could get operational without any issues. The bond between the employees and the organization are relational and they are an extended family for the management. There are about 35% women in the factory who are looked after well. Attrition has been low throughout the organization’s history.
Suppliers: Staying open, treating the supply chain partners fairly with pricing and timely payments, staying with long-standing suppliers and not just jumping from one to another has helped in maintaining steady relationships that lead to an understanding and supportive environment. Seventy percent of the suppliers of the company are associated with them for more than two decades and more than 85% have been associated for more than a decade.
Clients/Customers: While staying competitive, producing high-quality material, also being an extended arm of the brand/business is the way business is done in this company. This is also reciprocated by the clients who have long-standing trust-based relationship.
Modern Outlook and Proactive approach to Societal Problems:
There are client demands such as GOTS certifications which have helped in being proactive in many ways. That along with the regulatory requirement on ZLD is definitely a trigger, however, the company on its own accord is very much driven for being a zero-waste company and being climate neutral apart from being a zero liquid discharge company. Everyday samples are taken in glass jars and are show-cased to everyone in order to create awareness on the water and responsible water management.
Mr. Saravanan is fascinated with the concept of Circular economy, “although this comes as a new concept but completely in sync with traditional Indian values of no wastage”, he suggests. He explains three waste streams from processing. One is fabric waste which gets utilized as a lower grade fabric. The second stream of waste is the sludge and salt, by-products of the process. While chemical sludge goes to the cement industry, the salt is recycled within. There is a small amount of salt which is mixed salt, which is being recovered and the company is committed to identifying the reuse possibility for the same.
“We are so committed to the principles of a circular economy that we are now wanting to make sure the mixed salt finds some avenues as a source material,” says Mr Sa ravanan. The company management has funded research in partnership with Central Leather Research Institute in Chennai and is awaiting a positive outcome so that the salts can be utilized as a resource in leather tanneries. The third stream is packaging, and plastic waste and cardboard boxes are recycled through their supply source itself.
Moving towards Carbon Neutrality:
The global companies including many textile giants are setting carbon-neutrality and net- zero targets now. UBL is fully dependent on renewable energy sources with 1.25 MW of Solar, ground-mounted and two windmills of 850 kW power. The excess is fed to the grid. For Electricity, i.e., Scope II emissions, it is already nearly carbon neutral.
Mr. Saravanan is highly enthusiastic about Greenco Audit and is taking step towards getting the company Greenco certified.
Interviewed and written by:
Dr. Shashi K with Ms. Abija Nambiar
There are companies that are working on #zerowaste #waterneutral# #carbonneutral #carbonfree without necessarily being aware of the global trends. It is time we appreciate the good work done by these enterprises and share their stories of passion and consciousness towards the environment. Take inspiration and copy the good practice.