Care Home Management

The Care Home Decision Makers’ Magazine

Insight & Analysis

sustainable workwear

Working for staff, residents – and the environment

Workwear is working hard to reduce its carbon footprint, says Naiomi Swindlehurst-Beaumont, raw materials and research and development expert at Alsico

The UK government’s commitment to achieve net zero by 2050 has set all industries on a path to explore cleaner energy sources and more sustainable working practices, and the care workwear sector is no exception.

The path to sustainability

Most notably, as part of the UK’s net zero growth plan, the government is considering the introduction of Extended Producers Responsibility (EPR). EPR is an environmental policy approach that shifts the responsibility of a product’s lifecycle to the manufacturer or retailer, including design, take-back, recycling, and final disposal. The “producer
pays” EPR model, which has already been adopted by several other countries, would mean that brands or retailers would be charged a fee to cover the cost of recycling.

By forcing brands to take accountability, the government hopes to encourage the design of more durable and easily recyclable products, as well as to recover more valuable materials for reuse, therefore avoiding incineration and landfill.

As well as political pressure, many workwear providers simply now feel an ethical obligation to work towards more sustainable sources and processes and it is becoming commonplace to see environmental, social and governance (ESG) policies within workwear organisations. These policies outline a company’s business model to support sustainable development, often including how they will contribute to achieving net zero, and directly influence business decisions.

Progress to date

Within the workwear industry, there are many examples of more environmentally friendly work practice: from increased use of sustainable fibre sources, for example, more sustainable cotton sources from organisations such as the Better Cotton Initiative, to undertaking verification processes to confirm the legitimacy of sustainability claims. Independent verification processes such as the Global Recycled Standard (GRS) and Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) hold workwear companies accountable to their claims, and they also help customers to select providers who can authentically support their own sustainability targets. 

Combined with significant efforts to reduce the carbon emissions of workwear manufacturing facilities and move away from virgin fossil based derived fibres, the industry’s carbon footprint is moving in the right direction.

Obstacles

To prevent workwear from contributing to landfill, there is a need across the country to establish end-of-life garment recycling hubs – and garments must be designed to be recycled. Many products are not yet designed to be de-trimmed and do not have the blockchain and logistics in place for end- of-life garment recycling. Ultimately, these conversations must continue to bring about meaningful change.

Looking ahead

There is a strong desire across workwear manufacturers in the UK to continue building on progress so far. Stricter legislation around sustainability verification, both in the UK and abroad, will significantly help to standardise environmental requirements across the industry. This in turn will enable customers to make direct product comparisons and choose genuinely sustainable workwear options. It is also expected that sustainable and circular fibre sources will continue to replace virgin and fossil-based derived fibres.

In terms of product design, manufacturers will continue striving to develop garments with durability, end-of-life and circularity considerations at the forefront of the innovation process.

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