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Sustainable workwear - reducing your environmental footprint

15 November 2017

Sustainable workwear is becoming ‘the new black’ in the workwear business. More and more companies are demanding environmental-friendly workwear solutions which reduce water usage and use of chemicals. However, according to Sibtain Naqvi, Berendsen's marketing & business development manager, UK Workwear, taking the steps towards creating a sustainable workwear solution is highly complex.

The forces of population growth, economic growth and environmental threats is putting pressure on the worlds natural resources including essentials such as water, food and energy. Thus, the need for sustainable resource management is becoming more and more urgent for both government organizations and businesses. For businesses, the rising prices of many commodities is placing the ability to use resources efficiently at the center of competitiveness and having a professional and sustainable workwear setup in place is one way to reduce resource consumption.

However, setting up sustainability requirements for your company’s workwear solution can be an overwhelming task. It demands, among other things, textile expertise and knowledge about certifications and guidelines. It also requires knowhow with regards to reducing the environmental impact throughout the value chain – from textile to production to washing and maintenance, and finally to the disposal of workwear.

Workwear specialist Berendsen supports its customers in making sustainable choices that do not compromise the functionality of the workwear, such as safety or hygiene or any legal requirements for that matter.

Consider your environmental footprint throughout the value chain
Your choice of workwear supplier throughout the value chain can make a difference when it comes to reducing your company’s environmental footprint. At Berendsen, we rent, source, clean, and maintain our customers’ workwear, so they can focus on their core capabilities and business. The services we provide to customers have varying impacts on the environment, the communities where we operate and our employees. We recognise that we, as a support service provider, also have a key responsibility to help our customers attain their own environmental targets.

Therefore, corporate responsibility is a key corner stone of our business. Since 2009, we have been a signatory to the United Nations Global Compact. This provides us with a recognized and respected policy framework for our work on corporate responsibility. We are also committed to and focused on reducing our own usage of water, chemicals, electricity, and oil and gas (WECO) throughout the value chain. On a day to day basis this means that we make sure that the washing machines at Berendsen’s laundries are using the exact amount of water and chemicals needed for each wash – no more, no less. But it is also evident in the way our laundries are designed always equipped with the latest technology to be able to optimize our use of water and chemicals. In that way, by reducing our own impact on the environment, we reduce our customers’ environmental footprint.

Your textile choice is essential 

Sustainable workwear starts with choosing a textile that not only lives up to your requirements (safety, hygiene etc) but also decreases your environmental footprint.

There is a significant difference between the environmental impact of the production of various types of fabrics. You should, therefore, consider how the specific textile fibers perform during production with regards to energy use, water use, greenhouse gasses, water waste, and direct land use. Chemical usage during the production is another parameter which should be taken into account. For instance, the production of acrylic demands the most energy, nylon produces the most greenhouse gasses, and cotton is the most water consuming textile fiber. Moreover, it takes more than 20.000 liters of water and one kilo of chemicals to produce one kilo of conventional cotton.

However, sustainable workwear is not only a question about choosing the textile with the least direct environmental impact. You must also consider a range of other, crucial factors before making the final decision such as the durability and lifespan of the garments. 

At Berendsen, we focus on sustainable workwear with a long lifespan. The main part of our workwear range is made of polyester and cotton blends that can last through more laundry cycles than workwear made of 100 percent cotton. In addition, less energy and water is consumed when washing and drying this type of blend versus a 100 percent cotton blend.

We assist and advise our customers when it comes to choosing a textile, and we are able to offer our customers all kinds of sustainable textiles, such as recycle polyester, fairtrade cotton, BCI cotton, and Lyocell. Lyocell, often branded under the name Tencel, is made from wood pulp and in our case wood pulp from FSC-certified eucalyptus trees. Lyocell is a viable alternative to cotton. It is stronger than cotton, and it has anti-bacterial properties. However, it is very soft, and Lyocell, as low weight fabric or in light colours, can become transparent. It is also more expensive and in much less supply as cotton.

All in all, to ensure that you decide on a textile that ensures sustainability in the long run, it is very important to consider the following points and any possible negative effects on your workwear solution:

  • Performance of the textile e.g. lifespan and performance of garments throughout the lifecycle
  • Availability of the textile
  • Delivery time of the textile
  • Minimum order quantity of textile
  • Cost of the textile
  • Know your labels to decide on the right workwear solution

There are multiple labels and certifications to consider when setting up the requirements for your sustainable workwear solution, such as Oeko-Tex Standard 100, Oeko-Tex-Step, bluesign, EU Ecolable, Fair Trade, and BCI. It is, however, very important that you take a closer look at these labels before you decide on which standards you want your workwear to live up to. This will enable you to be aware of the possible impact on your workwear solution and not least what you are asking your workwear supplier to deliver.

At Berendsen, the foundation of our sustainability requirements of workwear is Oeko-Tex Standard 100. Minimum 98 percent of the fabrics used in the standard workwear is Oeko-Tex standard 100 (class 1 and 2) This is the leading textile human-ecological label that ensures that a textile does not contain health hazardous chemicals. Minimum 98 percent of the fabrics used in our direct sourced workwear is Oeko-Tex Standard 100 certified.