How to achieve an eco-friendly uniform


Tuesday 20th August 2019
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Introduction

The textiles industry is worth £842 billion which equates to 100 billion garments per year. It accounts for up to 10% of the EU’s environmental impact with textile production requiring enormous amounts of water and chemicals. These effects are worsened by the amount of garments we buy, with low prices and fast fashion having contributed to a 40% increase in purchases in recent decades. And less than half of used clothes are collected for reuse or recycling when they are no longer needed (see here for more information).


The very act of having a uniform can help reduce the amount of individuals’ clothing consumption. The standard allocation of 3 tops and 2 bottoms makes for far fewer garments than individuals would buy if choosing their own work wardrobe. However, it’s important to know as much as possible about where your uniform comes from and what it’s made of so that you can attain the most eco-friendly option for your organisation.

The environmental cost of each type of fabric

Cotton is especially environmentally unfriendly because it requires huge quantities of land, water, fertilisers and pesticides. You can reduce the environmental impact of a cotton uniform by using organic or bio cotton which use less water and pollutes less. We can supply WRAP-compliant 100% organic cotton t-shirts and sweatshirts suitable for workwear.

Polyester, although it is made from fossil fuels and is non-biodegradable, has some environmental benefits in that it requires less water to manufacture, has to be washed at lower temperatures, dries quickly and needs little ironing. It can also be recycled into new fibres.

We can supply polyester corporatewear made from recycled plastic bottles sourced from various socially compliant organisations. They are broken down into flakes which are melted to extrude a fibre used to create suiting material. This innovative recycled yarn has almost doubled its market share in 10 years and is a step in the drive to recycle the single use plastics which often end up contaminating our oceans.

How plastic bottles become a polyester suit
How plastic bottles become a polyester suit


However, polyester is still a plastic and does release toxic microplastics into the water supply when it’s washed.

Viscose (rayon) is made from renewable plants and is biodegradable. Much work is being done to find raw materials that are sustainable, such as lyocell (Tencel), made from quick-growing eucalyptus which requires no irrigation or pesticides, bemberg (Cupro),made from cotton linter which can’t be used for yarn, and Piñatex, made of pineapple leaves.

Hemp, soybean and bamboo fibre used in Japanese and Korean hospitality for hundreds of years are also being used to produce eco-friendly uniforms.

Moves such as this towards sustainable fabrics are very positive for the apparel industry, but eco-friendly materials can be more costly and many big corporations still need to put their bottom line before the planet.

So if sustainable materials aren’t achievable for your organisation,, what else can you do to minimise the environmental impact of uniforms?

Innate to Design

When it comes to uniform design, sustainability and eco-friendliness should begin as soon as the pen touches the paper, as the process should immediately consider not just how they will look when worn, but what their end-of-life plan is.

It is a good idea for procurement personnel to work closely with the designer to ensure the uniform is as eco-friendly as possible, not just in the design but in how many items are actually needed for staff, how they will be cared for (i.e. low temperature machine wash or dry clean), and how long-lasting they will be.

Supply Chain Responsibility

Companies are starting to scrutinise their suppliers more closely. They want to work with industry partners who not only offer competitive pricing and quality but who are also ethically compliant, and follow strict codes of conduct. This includes ensuring that workers are paid fairly and consistently, that no child labour is used in their production, and that materials and processes are sustainable and environmental concerns considered and protected where possible.

Although full transparency throughout the chain does not exist due to its complexity, suppliers do want it to be transparent and compliant with labour laws and human rights and are making huge efforts to ensure this, as well as making changes to reduce their impact on the environment.

Here are 10 ways to achieve good Corporate and Social Responsibility for your uniform.

1. Ask suppliers to map out their entire chain at quotation stage.

2. Ask suppliers to sign a code of conduct committing them to respect the 8 conventions of ILO (International Labour Organisation).

3. Suppliers should have ISO 14001 (the international standard for environmental management (or EMAS, the EU Eco-Management and Audit Scheme).

4. Suppliers have or will produce third-party verified audit and risk reports (eg SEDEX, SMETA, ECOVADIS) of the sites where the garments are produced.

5. You can use the Transparency One database to get a detailed analysis on how sustainable they are.

6. Has the supplier ever had press coverage or been convicted of breaches of social or environmental legislation?

7. Does the supplier seek ways to reduce carbon footprint such as through efficient transport or logistics companies with carbon offset policies?

8. Do they use biodegradable packaging?

9. Do they reduce waste through optimal stock management and re-using or recycling materials?

10. Are your garment descriptions or lead time requirements flexible enough to allow the supplier to use innovative and sustainable products?

How Uniforms by Creative helps

Here at Uniforms by Creative we expect all of our suppliers to conduct their worldwide operations in a socially and environmentally responsible manner, and only use independently audited manufacturers. We have a dedicated Supply Chain Manager who ensures that our suppliers comply with our Code of Conduct which encompasses the labour standards of the UK’s Ethical Trading Initiative Base Code which is founded on the ILO conventions. Our Code also requires that Modern Slavery is not present in any of our supply chain. We are also certified to environmental management standard ISO 14001.

In November 2014, we installed nearly 200 solar panels at our facility in Leeds. We generate enough electricity to run our offices, warehousing and garment-branding machinery, saving 22.32 tonnes of CO2 which is like planting 572 trees.

As a company we have created a dedicated SAS team (Sustainability Action Squad) who come up with new initiatives to improve our environmental impact and sustainability such as light sensors to turn off lights in rooms not in use, ensuring employees are set up to print double-sided to reduce paper consumption, and use the water saving setting on the dishwasher.

Having in-house production facilities also reduces our carbon footprint as garments don’t need to travel elsewhere to be branded.

We work with our suppliers to reduce the amount of plastic wrapping, we reuse all cardboard boxes, and we bulk orders and deliveries as much as possible to reduce the carbon footprint of the delivery and packaging.

DPD is our longstanding logistics partner both due to their status as one of the leading UK courier firms and because they share our mutual commitments to protecting the environment. DPD’s deliveries are carbon neutral through reducing and offsetting emissions. DPD is making 10% of its delivery fleet electric by 2021 and aims to be the most responsible city centre delivery company. In London all last mile deliveries are made with electric vehicles and the company is FORS accredited.

Like Uniforms by Creative, DPD operates to the environmental management standard ISO14001 and reduce their waste and energy consumption.

Recycling Programmes

At present, approximately 90% of old uniforms end up going to landfill or incineration - this amounts to around 33 million items.

However, many companies are now modifying their uniform procurement in order to bring every element of their business into line with their corporate social responsibility policy. This is leading to more companies seeking to ‘reduce, reuse and recycle’ their uniforms.

Uniforms by Creative donates unwanted and unbranded garments to refugees who have little more than the clothes on their back.

We securely shred branded items (to avoid outsiders obtaining it and passing themselves off as employees) and turn it into insulation products.

We also give waste products such as pallets, cardboard tubes and embroidery bobbins to organisations like SCRAP which creates arts and craft activities for children.

Conclusion

As you can see there is lots that can be done regardless of your budget by applying knowledge, planning and collaboration between you and your uniform designer to adhere to your CSR policies and reduce your impact on the environment.

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