A company can become more ethical and sustainable in a few ways when it comes to workwear. Often, the first step is understanding your workwear sources and choosing them more carefully based on their suppliers’ practices. One can also reduce environmental impact by ensuring that workwear isn’t unnecessarily disposed of in landfills.
What Makes Workwear Ethical & Sustainable?
Determining the ethics of any purchase can often be complicated because there’s no one way to judge whether a purchase is ethical; it’s a subjective value judgment.
At the same time, some practices are widely considered unethical and for good reason. If a company’s product genuinely harms consumers, workers or both, purchasing that product is less ethical by most standards.
Sustainability is arguably interconnected to the ethics of a particular product purchase, but it’s worth discussing on its own terms. For a product to be sustainable, the practices used to produce, sell and use that product should continue more or less indefinitely without doing significant environmental harm. A product is more sustainable if its production, sale and use involve fewer nonrenewable resources and avoid using harsh chemicals that may leach into soil or water.
Understanding Working Conditions
Some of the most important ways people tend to examine whether a particular product is ethical involve the working conditions of its production. Unfortunately, the fashion industry, including businesses that may sell workwear, is notorious for poor labor practices such as the use of child labor.
Before making a purchase, research the company’s working conditions. Although the discussion of ideal working conditions under capitalism is often complex, the worst offenders are usually obvious. For example, some companies exploit children, immigrants or prisoners to save costs because these groups often cannot stand up for their own interests and can be paid less than standard or ethical wages.
Ideally, a company sources workwear and other types of clothing from companies that pay their workers a fair wage, which allows them to enjoy a relatively high quality of life with some free time and some leeway in the event of illness or tragedy. However, a legal practice is not necessarily mean an ethical practice — for example, child labor is often illegal, but it isn’t everywhere. Regardless of its legal status, it should be considered unethical to have children working long hours in potentially dangerous environments just to reduce costs.
Understanding Workwear’s Environmental Impact
A company should also understand how the clothing it purchases may impact the environment. Many companies both in the United States and abroad aim to produce both ethical and sustainable clothes. This often starts with trying to source clothing materials in a sustainable way.
Although many understand that materials such as polyester can harm the environment in a number of ways such as introducing microplastics into our water, even materials that are grown (like cotton) can damage the environment if the right practices aren’t adopted. Cotton can severely degrade the quality of soil and introduce dangerous pollutants into soil and nearby water sources. However, it’s possible to offset the typical environmental impact of many clothing materials with good practices such as using less pesticides, fertilizer and water overruns in farming processes.
Another factor that influences workwear’s environmental impact is how long it lasts. Consider that a piece of workwear serving its purpose for 10 years is effectively twice as sustainable as a piece of workwear that is otherwise similar but only lasts five years. This is because a worker would need to replace that five-year workwear at least once in the time their 10-year workwear lasts.
The Road to Improvement
Your company may not necessarily be able to purchase workwear and similar goods from companies known for the most sustainable and ethical practices. Paying workers well and adopting sustainable business practices can often (although not always) increase costs. Exploiting people and the environment is often cheaper, which is why many companies engage in these practices.
Another potentially helpful practice is ensuring that workwear at the end of its life cycle avoids disposal in a landfill. We’ve written about this topic in the past and encourage readers interested in sustainable practices to read the article.
Renting uniforms and workwear can help make a company more sustainable. Renting clothing is often much more sustainable than buying clothing for workers because rented clothing has a longer life cycle. Companies such as Alsco that specialize in rental often engage in greener, more sustainable practices than smaller operations.
How Alsco Can Improve Your Company’s Sustainability Practices
There are many paths to become a more ethical and sustainable business. At Alsco, we’re able to help, often while allowing a company to reduce its overall costs in the process. If you’re looking to source workwear, check out our rental services. We also encourage you to see what else we might be able to do for your company because we can help with linens, laundry services and more. Contact us today to learn more about our offerings.
Child Labour in the Fashion Supply Chain. The Guardian.
50 Clothing Brands From the USA Making More Ethical and Sustainable Fashion. (April 2023). Good on You.