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From trees and PET bottles to wearable textiles

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The largest yet most energy-efficient factory of Mars is located in the Netherlands in the city of Veghel in the province of Noord-Brabant. As an icon of sustainability, the company is happy to take up Nedlin's initiative and test sustainable workwear. Ronald Verbeek, Team Leader PSG & General Cleaning Supply and Bram Wauben, Sales & Account Manager Industry at Nedlin talk about shared ambitions and the meaning of reciprocity.

When you think of Mars, you probably think of "tasty" rather than "sustainable". But if you visit the Mars website, you enter a world of social involvement. The American family business, which is not only a confectionery company but also a major producer of food and animal feed, has been working from the foundation of a strong moral compass for over a century.

"When Nedlin came to us with the question of whether we wanted to take part in a test with sustainable workwear on the shop floor, we were immediately interested," says Verbeek. "At Mars, reciprocity is one of the five basic principles that we base our work on. So, when a partner comes to us with such a proposal, we will always see if we can strengthen each other based on the good relationship we have. That such a test contributes to our own ambitions for sustainability is fantastic. It is an option that we hadn't looked into ourselves yet.”

Wauben: "We often hear from clients in the business sector, including the food industry, that sustainable workwear is not something they have thought about. That is exactly why we believe it is important that we bring this to their attention. Companies are often busy making their business processes more energy efficient or focusing on making their products more sustainable. Workwear often appears to be such a small part of this, despite the fact that the environmental impact of the clothing industry is considerable."

That such a test contributes towards our own ambitions for sustainability is fantastic. It is an option that we hadn't looked into ourselves yet.

Ronald Verbeek
Improving production processes

"We are investing a great deal in the process and in our product," explains Verbeek. "We reduce consumption by means of energy-saving measures, such as heat recovery, heat pumps, or more economical machines. We are researching technologies with which we can produce the same products with less energy. Our plant in Veghel is Mars’ most energy-efficient plant and it is our ambition for this site to operate on a completely CO2 neutral basis by 2040. Together with us, our operators are thinking about smart energy-saving measures, such as using less water when converting on the production line or rather stopping machines in the event of malfunctions"

"You've also made great strides in saving energy when it comes to warming and cooling chocolate," states Wauben.

"That's right," answers Verbeek. "We are the largest chocolate bar factory in the world. We process 270,000 tonnes of chocolate confectionery every year. Over the past few years, we have worked hard to reuse the residual heat from our ovens, chillers, and compressors to keep the chocolate in our systems warm. But I can imagine that similar processes are used in the washing process in your laundry. How has the new construction given shape to this?"

"You can see that we have designed the process in the new building in Hoensbroek according to the latest smart technologies. This is evident in the recovery of residual heat, as well as by the use of LED lighting and solar collectors. I think it's a good development that we're taking steps not only in the processes but also in our product. And, of course, it is essential that you are willing to cooperate in this test with sustainable workwear, as it is incredibly valuable to us."

Food industry workwear gets a sustainable makeover

"That interest is mutual," replies Verbeek. "We were curious to see how workwear made from recycled PET bottles and wood pulp would hold up. You told us that the wearing comfort should be at least as pleasant as cotton, so it's important that our employees feel this in the test.

"This is, of course, very exciting for us as well," says Wauben. "We believe in this product, which is why we choose to carry out the test phase for you in a cost-neutral manner. We know that it meets important basic requirements, such as offering safety to the wearer and the product with which the wearer works. But wearing comfort is, of course, also an important factor, so that's what the assessment of the test is all about. We consciously chose the existing models worn by the employees, but our versions were made from Tecawork™ Ecogreen textiles. There are no differences in the model, and testers can focus on wearing comfort, stretchability, moisture regulation, and heat dissipation. While the test is running at the factory, we are also testing the washing process internally. We want to see how the product behaves when it has been washed fifty or a hundred times. The test has been going on for nearly three weeks now, so I'm also curious about your first impressions.

Comfort and quality

The feedback from my colleague René Snoek, who wears the workwear himself and has included eighteen colleagues in this test, is very positive," replies Verbeek. "The fabric is thinner than cotton, which takes some getting used to, but after a few washes you see that the fibre becomes more compact. And precisely because the fabric is thin, it is very light, which makes it very comfortable for employees too. The workwear scores well even in changing circumstances, from warm to cold rooms. It is now only our white workwear that is offered with this material. I always wear our blue workwear myself, is this also available in a sustainable version?

That could be a great next step, answers Wauben. But first it is important to complete the current wear tests with the white workwear. We will soon be starting at one of your factories in Viersen, Germany. We hope, of course, that we will be able to make all workwear sustainable in stages. The higher the demand, the more possibilities there are to further develop the workwear into other colours.

That provides perspective, says Verbeek. It would, of course, be great if everyone here were to walk around in sustainable workwear. When I hear the enthusiastic reactions of my colleagues, I'm already looking forward to the first test with blue workwear.

René Snoek

Coordinator PSG at Mars

I've been wearing the new clothes for three weeks now, and I'm very satisfied. This is also what I've been told by most of the employees I have asked to take part in the test. At first, some were sceptical because they wondered whether workwear made from recycled PET bottles would be comfortable. The fact that the workwear feels thinner also caused some comments among the men in the beginning. They'd joke about wearing brightly coloured underwear under the thin, white workwear. But during the wear test it turned out that the fabric is not transparent at all, so that joke doesn't hold anymore. I think it would be a good idea to include women's workwear in the next test, because I can imagine that their experience is different.

The material is wonderfully light, the fabric feels like silk, and the trousers almost feel like a pair of slacks. I consciously asked employees to work at very different locations in the factory. In our company, many people walk outside from inside or the other way around – and that's the magic of the fabric. It's cool indoors and warm enough to wear outdoors. I definitely don't want to go back to wearing the old cotton workwear.

Marcel Jansen 

Market Manager Industrial Laundries at Ten Cate Protective Fabrics

We introduced our Tecawork™ Ecogreen fabric in October 2017. We tested a lot of different blends, and in the end this fabric came out as the best. It is made from 100% green fibres from recycled water bottles and sustainably produced wood.

The same blend of polyester and cotton has been used in the industrial sector for forty years, so switching to another material takes some getting used to. But we are convinced that this fabric is comparable and even better on all fronts, in terms of quality, wearing comfort, and longevity. It absorbs even more moisture, is breathable, and feels soft and supple on the skin.

We've developed the Tecawork™ Ecogreen in three different weights of fabric and a wide range of colours, but of course we want to move on to more different versions. That's why this collaboration with Nedlin is so important. They focus on the end customer, and it's great that they found a company like Mars that wants to test the end product. That is how we connect the chain and can make sustainable choices, together.”