Sustainability is not just a buzzword. As more industries answer consumer calls for more sustainable practices and products, the protective workwear world is no exception. In fact, in some ways protective workwear has led the general garment industry in sustainable practices. At TenCate Protective Fabrics, our aim has always been to provide products that meet or exceed end-user expectations of protection and comfort. That commitment will never change and is augmented by our innovative efforts to create increasingly sustainable products that ask for no compromises in protection or comfort.
Raising sustainability standards is generally a win-win proposition in any industry. Decreasing environmental impacts and preserving natural resources are the immediately evident pros, and most people want to feel that they are contributing to these efforts at whatever level they can. For end users, they want to purchase products that meet their needs and expectations of use while having minimal impact on the environment. Companies want to offer a competitive product that end users will choose over alternatives—that could be based on being the more sustainable option, with all other factors being equal.
Let’s take bath towels for example. You may have noticed OEKO-TEX® labeling on products like towels that come into contact with your skin. In the U.S., OEKO-TEX® STANDARD 100 certifies that products are tested for harmful substances to human health. If you’re choosing between a few different brands of towels at Target and all of them are equally soft and available in the color and style you want, but only one has OEKO-TEX® STANDARD 100 labeling, that may be the deciding factor. When all other criteria are being met, why not choose the most sustainable option?
Increasingly this is becoming the case in protective workwear. It won’t be necessary to sacrifice comfort or protection for the sake of sustainability: we might soon have it all.
The benefits of sustainability for companies are manifold. Sustainable products not only offer a unique selling proposition to consumers, but they can be less expensive in the long term thanks to additional benefits like high durability. Protective workwear companies like TenCate Protective Fabrics are looking for ways to implement more sustainable practices, such as reducing water use and using more sustainable materials that put less strain on natural resources.
While there are currently few governmental regulations in the U.S. mandating sustainability initiatives, there are a variety of ways that companies self-report, and several third-party certifying bodies can independently attest to and accredit the sustainability practices of an organization.
Water usage is an extremely useful metric in measuring sustainability and one that companies themselves can readily audit and monitor, as well as other utilities like electricity and gas usage.
Environmental Product Declarations (EPD®’s) are certified by third parties and are an excellent declaration tool for manufacturers to demonstrate their commitment to sustainability and transparency. An EPD® includes a life cycle assessment of the product, which gives consumers an understanding of the product’s environmental impact.
Other certifications include the aforementioned OEKO-TEX® labels, and UL Solutions also offers several certifications, such as ECOLOGO® and GREENGUARD. Depending on your industry, there are likely more specific organizations that can help you promote your sustainability initiatives through official recognition.
Industrial Laundries Leading the Way
As part of the protective workwear value chain, industrial laundries have arguably been at the forefront of sustainability in our industry. It is far more efficient to wash protective garments in their large machines in bulk rather than have each end user wash their uniforms individually in less efficient home machines. And industrial laundries have done a terrific job of extending the lifecycle of garments through proper maintenance and repair services, keeping some garments in service for years, which decreases the need for new garments and thereby reduces the materials and resources expended in producing more products. Their commitment to maximizing garment life, in turn, puts pressure on manufacturers like us to create well-made products that hold up throughout that extended lifecycle.
Our Commitment to Sustainability
At TenCate Protective Fabrics, our focus is on innovation, and we have long recognized that sustainability is a key part of our industry's future. To that end, over the last 20 years, we have developed more sustainable production processes, such as minimizing water. Fabric waste is chopped up into fibers that can be reused in other products and our wastewater management system has won several awards. In addition to more sustainable production, we offer more sustainable product lines such as Tecasafe® that use lyocell fibers, which requires less water to produce than conventional options like cotton.
Sustainability is only going to become more important in the years ahead, in every industry. We are proud to be a part of that future in meeting our own sustainability goals and in offering a sustainable solution to our customers and partners that can be a part of their sustainability story. Questions about how TenCate Protective Fabrics can help you reach your sustainability goals without compromising on safety? Reach out here to speak with an expert.