Sustainable clothing procurement trial with the NHS

Client:
Defra
Start date:
March 2010
Completed:
April 2011

The Sustainable Clothing Roadmap launched in 2007 highlighted several key action areas, including creating market drivers for sustainable clothing. One of the specific actions was for Defra to commission a demonstration project on sustainable procurement of clothing in the National Health Service (NHS). This project was led by Environmental Resources Management working in partnership with Brook Lyndhurst and Colour Connections.

Working with four NHS Trusts, the NHS Supply Chain and uniform suppliers, the project team investigated the feasibility of procuring nurses’ uniforms to the standards of the European Union’s Green Public Procurement (EU GPP) criteria. Furthermore, it explored the benefits of including other environmental and social impacts of manufacturing, using and disposing of the uniforms, as well as the behavioural aspects of the staff who wear the clothing.

Through in-depth interviews with people from procurement functions, laundry managers, staff representatives and experts from the supply base coupled with desk-based research and provision of support, the team was able to describe the current state of procurement of nurses’ uniforms within these Trusts. This information was used to draw conclusions with respect to meeting the EU GPP, to make recommendations for improvements in the future and to show case best practice through case study analysis.

Many of the conclusions are transferable to other public sector organisations that purchase uniforms. The research undertaken here has shown that a more coordinated system of purchasing would bring greater consistency to the situation, whilst not wanting to hamper the specific needs of each Trust in deciding what it should be buying.

When it comes to staff acceptance of uniforms, there are some clear priority issues, namely: comfort; fitness for purpose (e.g. meets infection prevention and control protocols); durability; cost (more relevant to procuring staff); appearance (professional); and identification of role and grade. This means that environmental and social issues often receive a lower priority. However, if uniforms meet the needs regarding these main issues, then having clothing that has low environmental and social impacts is seen as an added bonus. Moreover, interviewees generally appeared more concerned about the social rather than environmental impacts of their uniforms.

This project has shown progress in the understanding of sustainable procurement of uniforms and that there is an appetite for further improvement. However, with the many other demands and targets in the NHS there remains considerable opportunity for further gains.

For more information on progress on the Sustainable Clothing Roadmap see the 2011 progress report here.
 

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