As people become more eco-conscious, businesses are on the lookout for new ways to reduce their consumption, waste, and carbon footprint, including in how they protect their workers. When it comes to the procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE), sustainability is starting to count.
The largest generation of workers, that’s who. Millennials now make up 35% of the US workforce and will represent 75% of the global workforce by 2025. This generation of workers see themselves as transforming the US labor force through social responsibility. Equally important is the rise of Generation Z. These children of Gen Xers began entering the workforce a few years ago (6% of the workforce in 2020; 20% in 2025). They place a high priority on social change, racial equity, and protecting the environment.
Who’s Buying PPE?
You guessed it – millennials. Numerous research studies have shown that millennials are playing significant roles in business buying decisions. In the 2019 Industrial Buying Dynamics study published by UPS, 38% of procurement respondents were millennials.
Is This Really That Important?
That’s what the research says! A 2022 study on key issues in procurement found sustainability rose more than other priority in 2022. While sustainability has long been a top priority in Europe, it is now a much greater priority for US companies. In addition, corporate social responsibility, another key part of the environmental, social, and governance (ESG) agenda, continues to rise in the list of key priorities for many companies.
What Does All This Mean?
Now is the time! An increasing number of companies are making and publicizing sustainability goals, and they are looking for partners and products that help them reach their goals, while also saying within budget. Now is the time for PPE providers to demonstrate HOW they can do just that, while keeping workers protected.
What Are We Already Doing?
According to a recent ISEA survey of PPE manufacturers*, more than 95% of respondents currently employ at least some kind of sustainable business practices, and 44% have formal, company-wide sustainability programs. Here is what some are doing:
Using Sustainable Materials: Companies are increasingly using sustainable materials, such as recycled plastics, organic cotton, or biodegradable materials, in their products to reduce their environmental impact.
For example, Watson Gloves has diverted more than 3 million plastic bottles from landfills and oceans to produce their WasteNot™ product line, and their Reclaim™ landfill biodegradable gloves covert into energy and fuel rather than break down into micro plastics. They are also helping users reduce their consumption with a free sustainable site audit program.
“Elevating industry to protect not only people’s hands but the planet too is an important facet throughout Watson Gloves,” says Laura Whitlock, Sr. Director of Marketing and Innovation at Watson Gloves. “Being able to help our distributor and end user customers with not only sustainable gloves through our WasteNot™, Reclaim™ and recycled 3M Thinsulate™ partnership, but through quantifying their sustainable efforts that can be put towards their own ESG goals is something that we are really proud of. It’s our job as manufacturers to look across the supply chain on ways we can make a difference and we’re happy to see other ISEA members joining the movement as well.”
Recycling and Reducing Waste: Companies are implementing closed-loop manufacturing processes, reducing the amount of waste they produce and increasing the amount of materials they recycle.
For example, Dupont Personal Protection’s Tyvek ® garments are recycled through the Tyvek® protective apparel recycling program. This service helps to recycle garments into products like pallets and park benches. DuPont diverts 10 pounds of Tyvek® from the waste stream for every case of 25 coveralls recycled.
“At DuPont Safety, we’re working on protecting the planet with the same energy that drives our commitment to protecting people at work,” Commented Kelsey Bergan, Global Sustainability Leader, DuPont Safety and Protection.
Investing in Renewable Energy: Some companies are investing in renewable energy sources, such as solar or wind power, to power their manufacturing facilities, reducing their reliance on fossil fuels and minimizing their carbon footprint.
For example, MSA Safety locations in Devizes, United Kingdom; Galway, Ireland; Berlin, Germany; Chatillon, France; and Ada, Oklahoma, are transitioning to 100% renewable electricity plans.
Sustainability Reporting: Some companies are publishing sustainability reports to demonstrate their commitment to ESG issues and to provide transparency to stakeholders.
For example, Honeywell’s 2022 ESG Report details the organization’s commitment to be carbon neutral by 2035 in its facilities and operations. Honeywell is allocating up to $50 million each year to internal projects that support this target, including converting to renewable energy sources, completing capital improvement projects at our sites, electrifying its fleet of company vehicles, and using credible carbon offsets.
What Can We Do?
Tell your story! Many PPE manufacturers have started their eco-conscious journey and tell their story of sustainability, ensuring transparency and demonstrating their commitment to environmental responsibility.
- Establish sustainability goals: The first step often is to establish sustainability goals. This can include reducing your carbon footprint, using more sustainable materials, and improving supply chain management.
- Communicate your efforts: Once sustainability goals are established, communicate your efforts to stakeholders, including employees, customers, and investors. This can include producing sustainability reports, participating in industry events and conferences, and leveraging social media to showcase their sustainability initiatives.
- Provide product information: Provide detailed information about the sustainability of your products, including the materials used, manufacturing processes, and end-of-life options. This information should be easily accessible to customers and should be included on product packaging and marketing materials.
- Use sustainable materials: Consider using sustainable materials in your products. For example, use recycled materials or materials that have a lower environmental impact.
- Reduce waste: Focus on reducing waste in the manufacturing processes. This can include implementing recycling programs, reducing packaging waste, and finding ways to reuse materials.
- Improve supply chain sustainability: Work with suppliers to improve sustainability throughout the supply chain. This can include partnering with suppliers who have strong sustainability practices, implementing sustainable transportation options, and reducing the environmental impact of manufacturing facilities.
What Are YOU Doing?
Many providers and suppliers of PPE and safety products have started a journey to help drive change for the good of society and community. How are YOU helping to get people thinking differently about the impact our industry has on the environment? Share your efforts, and let us help you tell your story.
* Full repot to be released in May 2023