Indonesia’s most highly developed art form, batik, is made by an ancient wax-resistant dying technique that predates written records.
Batik textiles were worn by the leaders of the prosperous Majapahit empire, which ruled much of south-east Asia between 1200 and 1500; they still remain a popular element of Indonesian culture. In recognition of batik’s significance, Unesco in 2009 inscribed it on the masterpieces of the intangible heritage of humanity list.
However, its production has a major impact on the environment, and batik businesses produce more CO2 emissions than any other small or medium enterprise in Indonesia.
There were some 50,000 batik- producing companies in 2009, according to statistics from the department of industry. They have a high consumption of fossil fuel (kerosene) and electricity, and use toxic dyes and massive amounts of water.
The Clean Batik Initiative (CBI) is a four-year programme working to promote sustainable practices and help create a more ecologically friendly product. “We aim to harmonise Indonesian batik with the environment,” said CBI project co-ordinator Martin Krummeck. “The programme assists batik SMEs [small or medium-sized enterprises] in implementing cleaner, safer and more efficient production.”
The initiative was established in 2010 by the Indonesian-German Chamber of Commerce (Ekonid), and is co-funded by the EU Switch-Asia Grant programme. The CBI programme started in Yogyakarta province, and has expanded to the traditional batik-producing areas of Pekalongan in central Java and Cirebon in west Java.
The programme shares information on practical sustainability with government representatives through workshops on cost management and water and energy efficiency, gives producers technical assistance to help them adopt sustainable production, and promotes environmentally friendly batik to the public.
The results have been encouraging. In Yogyakarta, 93 of the 100 SMEs that joined showed at least 70% progress.
“The CBI programme has shown us how to save money and reduce waste,” says Sarwidi, of Batik Sarwidi textile shop. “By working with technical consultants we do things like calculating our anticipated waste and take steps to reduce it.”
The traditional kerosene-fuelled stove to heat the wax for application to the cloth is usually lit all day, and consumes excessive energy. The CBI developed an electric stove with a thermostat, reducing energy consumption and costs. Traditional stoves use around four litres of kerosene a day, costing $3. The new stove reduces energy costs to a fraction of the bill for kerosene; 64% of SMEs in Yogyakarta have now adopted the CBI stove.
“The brilliant thing is that the companies have an incentive to adopt sustainable practices because they stand to save money,” said CBI programme adviser Michael Grotehusmann.
He said a bigger challenge has been to reduce damage from harmful dyes. “Dyes are the biggest polluters as they directly enter waterways via wastewater. Previously there were no other disposal methods except directly into rivers. Sometimes you might have spotted a purple-coloured river in batik industry areas.”
The CBI built a 15-metre-deep reservoir in Yogyakarta to contain polluted water. SMEs in Cirebon and Pekalongan are using reservoirs this year, along with containers to use reuse dye water. So far there has been a 4% reduction in water usage.
The programme also engages with the government in efforts to ban harmful dyes, and encourages SMEs to use only natural dyes. Use of chemical dyes decreased by 3% in Yogyakarta over a year. Grotehusmann said the focus in chemical-dye prevention is on promoting sustainable consumption.
Last year in Yogyakarta, the programme provided batik SMEs with marketing help, organising seminars and consulting on the marketing of clean batik, which was also marketed online through the CBI programme website. It gave promotional support at domestic and international trade fairs and linked with international customers from across Asia.
“In just over a year, 10% of our SMEs have switched to using natural dyes completely,” said Grotehusmann. “Designers in Japan have expressed interest in Indonesian batik, such as the internationally renowned Kansai Yamamoto. The bigger the art form becomes, the cleaner production will become.”