Throughout the world, batik as an art form is known for its beauty and intricacy. Whether as an artist or onlooker, one can easily appreciate the delicate application of different elements into something unique and extraordinary. However, there is a side of the batik industry, left unknown to the masses, which runs contrary to its very nature. The intricate technique and beautiful designs adored by so many, stands in stark contrast to the environmentally harsh and damaging industrial practices all too often employed. Many larger factories the world over are changing their practices to better care for the environment. This progress however is overshadowed by the small and medium sized enterprises (SME), making up approximately 88% of companies, which continue to be characterized by poor environmental procedures. In the batik industry this looks like improper production management, inefficient use of raw materials, and low efficiency of technology. Clearly, this is bad news. Now for some good news!
Enter Vincent Piket, Ambassador and head of the Delegation of the European Union to Malaysia, and the forerunner of the Clean Batik Initiative. Having grown up in the Netherlands with its Indonesian influences, Piket was exposed to batik early on. However, today he admits that most Europeans have little understanding and appreciation of the art form, something he desires to see changed.
“Batik is part of Malaysia’s tradition, but not necessarily traditional,” Piket says, implying that just as design has evolved over the years so can industrial practices. The main goal of the Clean Batik Initiative is to improve efficiency in the use of water, materials, and energy in batik production by SMEs. This in turn will benefit both the environment and those working in this industry. “Malaysia is one of ten countries world-wide to be called mega-bio diverse,” explains Piket. Meaning that just as Malaysia has much to offer the world through its traditions and art, so it has much to offer through its naturally rich environment, which therefore must be protected.
Vincent Piket has combined his strength and passion by bringing together various organizations and industrial leaders throughout Europe, Malaysia, and Indonesia to confront these issues head on. “This is not just diplomacy or negotiations,” he says, “but the sharing of mutual interests.” Putting their money where their mouth is, the European Commission is picking up 80% of the bill, amounting to over 1.8 million euros. This is a win-win situation for everyone involved, but it would seem that the batik industry has the most to gain. Not only would they be contributing to the protection of their natural environment, but they would also be creating a more healthy work environment for themselves. In addition, with better usage of raw materials and less waste created, production yield will increase at lower costs. Furthermore, through greener production, batik will have a better international reputation, thus opening up an untapped market in western countries. This in turn can help to strengthen the economies of both Malaysia and Indonesia.
To implement these changes, batik managers from one hundred batik firms throughout Terrenganu and Kelantan will be trained in more efficient uses of inputs, careful waste management, and worker health. With all the benefits of this initiative, motivation should not be the problem. Educating the batik industry is both the challenge and the key to seeing this initiative succeed. For Vincent Piket however, the challenge is rather different.
“The hardship of being posted in Malaysia is the knowledge that one day I will have to leave,” Piket says. Clearly though, when he does return to his home country he will have done a world of good for Malaysia.