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Crises in global logistics, and not least, public health, have exemplified how crucial it is for workwear and safety clothing to be sustainable today. Noting this, organizations across the globe, both large and small, have taken additional steps in future-proofing their business operations. Today's industries, from healthcare to oil & gas have largely adopted environmentally responsible processes and eco-friendly alternatives to essential tools, making sustainability in their value chains a key priority.
For Lenzing, a leading fiber producer, this means bolstering its sustainable offerings for the workwear segment to enable companies in providing their frontline workers with both comfortable and sustainable workwear.
In the latest edition of our “TENCEL™ Insights” Series, Alexandra Steger, Business Development Workwear at Lenzing AG, joins us to share expert insight into how organizations can push their industry towards a green future with sustainable workwear.
Q: Why should organizations consider adopting and investing in sustainable workwear for their employees?
Alexandra: When it comes to workwear, considerations like comfort, safety, and durability will of course be first of mind, but an increasingly important factor for companies and organizations is also the overall sustainability of the garments, especially in industries where harsh cleaning and disposal methods are hard to avoid yet taxing on the environment.
As a global leader in fiber production and sustainable innovation, we recognize that Lenzing is well-placed to improve the sustainability profile of workwear garments for these industries. As a segment, workwear has been slow to adopt carbon neutrality – even as the rest of the garment industry is propelled into a zero-carbon future. Two years ago, we introduced our carbon-zero lyocell and modal fibers under the TENCEL™ brand, Lenzing’s flagship brand for textiles; it was novel for the workwear sector, but working with our long-term partners at Klopman , we’ve demonstrated that it can be introduced for workwear clothing just as well.
Beyond the benefit of reduced carbon footprint, these fibers offer the same supply chain transparency, as part of Lenzing’s fiber identification technology, for manufacturing organizations as they have done for retail and clothing companies. The future of workwear considers the threefold of comfort, performance, and sustainability – we’ve listened to the shifting needs of the segment and their industries, and the expansion of our carbon-neutral fiber portfolio seemed to be the right and natural next step.
Q: What should organizations consider when transitioning to sustainable workwear?
Alexandra: Durability and comfort. A central concern for organizations purchasing workwear for their teams is budget. It can be a costly expense, so ensuring that garments stand the test of time and have minimal degradation is highly important, not only for environmental reasons but expense too. TENCEL™ Lyocell fibers are known for their high tenacity profile among cellulose fibers, which give the garments greater strength and is ideal for the kinds of large-scale industrial laundry that organizations, such as those in the healthcare sector often need for garment cleaning. The fibers have the ability to withstand repeated washes without the loss of sheen or color.
Comfort is crucial to note as well. Uniforms that are uncomfortable to wear will impact the wearers’ performance. When you are irritated, naturally you will lose your focus on what’s important as you try to address the source of irritation. TENCEL™ Lyocell fibers are gentle on skin and provide much higher breathability than synthetic or cotton fibers. The fibers’ ability to manage moisture efficiently also reduces bacterial growth.
Q: There’s been a lot of discussion around the idea of social responsibility in public procurement. How has Lenzing been helping public procurers reach their environmental goals?
Alexandra: Public procurement is a highly-discussed topic at moment, particularly in Europe where added criteria for recycled materials or sustainable production methods has recently been set for tenders by government agencies or institutions.
I’m happy to say that we already have a couple of success stories in this space, one being our collaboration with UTEXBEL, a vertically integrated workwear textiles group, for the Belgian Federal Public Service for Justice (FPS Justice). The UTEXBEL collaboration entailed a provision of 80,000 prison personnel shirts for FPS Justice security guards, made from fabric with TENCEL™ branded lyocell fibers with REFIBRA™ technology. By utilizing TENCEL™ Lyocell fibers with REFIBRA™ technology, UXTEBEL was able to reduce the use of new resources and create workwear products that are more sustainable yet durable and comfortable at the same time.
Embedding sustainable practices in public procurement is still in its early stages, but legislation that places importance on sustainability and traceability is helping to facilitate the development of a more environmentally responsible workwear industry. For Lenzing, industry collaborations, similar to our work with UTEXBEL, will continue to be a way forward to drive sustainability.
Q: How do you envision circularity for the workwear industry?
Workwear is a rather conservative business. Unlike segments geared towards retail, it doesn’t perpetuate the typical cycle of seasonal trends. Rather, trends in the workwear segment are driven by the need to future-proof business operations. The pandemic has perfectly demonstrated how crucial it is that value chains are robust and resilience to uncertainty, and bolstering circularity in workwear, among other parts of operations, helps companies and organizations better scale for the future.
Textiles is still a largely linear ‘make, take, dispose’ industry. Yet, when talking about industrial laundry or textiles care, there has always been an element of circularity in the business model to minimize environmental impact. Our job at Lenzing is not so much about transitioning the industry into a circular economy, but accelerating the process through continuous industry collaboration, such as our partnership with UTEXBEL, to offer more options.