Those that can – Launder

Thoughts from the Textile Services Association's annual meeting in Chester.

Philip Wright is a marine biologist. He is also CEO of the Textile Services Association, in a booming if over-looked sector using a familiar circular economy business model. On 10th November, David Fitzsimons facilitated an industry panel on stage for a packed annual meeting in Chester and spoke about Oakdene Hollins' work in the hospitality sector as well as opportunities to promote a circular corporate wear service.

The sector directly employs 34,000 people and generates gross value added (GVA) of £1.86 billion. It is growing rapidly - fast enough to trigger mergers and acquisitions across Europe as firms build scale and invest in improved technology. Energy and water resource efficiency have improved dramatically. Whereas industrial laundries once used 2 gallons of water per kg, the best achieve 2 litres per kg. A similar story is reported for energy where 0.75 kWh per kg is now achievable. Around the fringes of this well-organised annual meeting, everyone knew which of the industrial laundries was the benchmark to beat for energy and water performance. It was whispered with respect.


But what is the relevance of this to marine biology? Domestic washing machines scour plastic fibres from textiles and clothing which, after passing through waste-water treatments, accumulate in the oceans. The question is whether the industrial laundries in this sector perform any better. The expectation is that they do, since even lint filtered in the laundries has been investigated for recycling; but no one knows for sure. Since polycotton blends are widely used for table linen, napkins, uniforms and bedding this is a research question that might lead to new business opportunities for TSA member companies Afonwen, Berendsen, Johnsons or others. Alternatively, the research may lead to regulatory reforms for better management of these effluents of affluence.

What is surprising is that the leading companies in the sector are not lauded for their successful implementation of circular economy business models. Where are the case studies in business schools, the academic research or industry voices at Ellen MacArthur Foundation events? Too small a sector perhaps, or more likely too busy serving customers in hospitality, healthcare and manufacturing.

This is a sector that is changing quickly. As the leading companies grow, some will take up mentorship roles in the circular and low-carbon economy. It was our pleasure to participate at Chester as the TSA sets a new course for the industry.

Simon Strick