Can Work Uniforms Really Be Sustainable?

As popular as sustainability is in the modern era, it can sometimes be hard to figure out how to apply it to a given situation. Take work uniforms, for example. We are just starting to see textile manufacturers and uniform providers claiming to offer sustainable uniforms. But what does that mean? Can work uniforms really be sustainable?

Alsco, a Salt Lake City company that pioneered uniform rental in the 1800s, says that sustainability can be applied to work uniforms. However, there are no defined standards at this time. Just because a textile manufacturer or uniform provider claims to be sustainable doesn’t make it so. You really have to look at how they define the term.

Below are some of the areas in which sustainability concepts are applied to work uniforms. In the absence of standards, it is left to each company claiming to be sustainable to develop their own policies and procedures.

Eco-Friendly Textiles

Any discussion of sustainable work uniforms should probably start with the textiles used to create those uniforms. There are some types of textiles that are already recognized as being eco-friendly. These are textiles made with materials like bamboo and recycled plastic. Yes, you did read that correctly. Recycled plastic can be transformed into a fabric.

You start with a bunch of waste plastic, usually from things like recycled water bottles. You then shred the plastic, melt it down, and then use it to create a very fine thread that can be woven into a fabric similar to polyester. The fabric is used to make all sorts of things from shirts to pants and shoes.

Along those same lines are eco-friendly dyes. Sustainability dictates using natural dyes over their chemical counterparts whenever possible. It also dictates using dyes that are more easily tolerated by people with sensitivities to chemical products.

Manufacturing Procedures

Sustainability is often applied to work uniforms in terms of how they are manufactured. Does a manufacturer adhere to sustainable principles, like relying on green energy? Manufacturers can adopt processes that use less energy, generate less pollution, and rely on recycling and repurposing to reduce waste. All such practices would contribute to that manufacturer’s sustainability goals.

Uniform Laundering Procedures

Uniform rental companies looking to pursue a sustainability strategy would seek to revamp their laundering procedures. One thing they would look at is water use. Fortunately, most modern facilities now recycle as much water as possible. Water recycling is a pretty standard practice these days.

Beyond that, providers look at the cleaning solutions they use. They look at ways to safely launder uniforms without adding more pollution to the environment. They tend to get away from harsh chemicals in favor of enzyme-based products and other safe cleaning solutions.

Sustainability is Open to Interpretation

The sustainability principles described in this post by no means constitute conclusive list. There are many other things that manufacturers and uniform providers pursue to make their operations more sustainable. The most important thing to remember here is that sustainability is open to interpretation. What a manufacturer might consider sustainable may not be so in the eyes of customers, and vice-versa.

If your company is looking for sustainable uniforms, be prepared to do some research. They really do exist. It is just that definitions vary from one provider to the next. Your best bet is to dig around to find out why a provider markets itself as being sustainable. If their criteria match yours, you are good to go.

Yes, work uniforms really can be sustainable. Utilizing them is one way for companies to actively pursue their own sustainability goals.