Circle of life

10 August 2022

The recent ETSA Congress had a potent message to deliver; the world must stop circling the drain and up its game to tackle climate change. A circular economy is the way forward, something the textile services industry is historically and by its very make up in a good place to deliver. All roads lead in that direction, writes Kathy Bowry, from Rome

The European Textile Services Association (ETSA) Congress 2022 put great emphasis on the need for developing and adhering to a circular economy if we want to combat climate change as Elena Lei, secretary general of the Association, presided over her first Congress since taking up the baton of leadership in 2020*.

The two-day event, over 11-12 May, in the heart of Rome, was a small window of time to cram in a shed load of information and discussion as well as networking but somehow it did. And very successfully.

Opening Congress, getting straight to it, Lai announced: “Members provide fresh, quality linen rental in a business model that is inherently circular. The maxim is re-use, extend life and reduce waste in their own operations and supply chains. We must adapt to a changing world. ETSA supports the industry in face of climate crisis at a time when there is more and more uncertainty daily. And yet the industry is still keeping up with highest standards of hygiene and sustainability. I am proud to be part of a great industry, combating waste, providing jobs and so on.

“As human guests and guardians of this planet we must leave it good for future generations with the same access to its beauty and resources as we had. We must not look on CSR as a competitive advantage or USP. Cooperation is what will make the difference for industry, nations and humanity. ETSA is proud of its EU Commission Climate Ambassadorship and the responsibilities that go with it.

“Long lasting fabrics and products that remain in service as long a s possible is in our DNA and inherent to our business model. Innovation is a key driver. We have seen incredible innovation by textile rental companies, suppliers and national associations. Help us to think out of the box as this is what we need. We also need young talent and they need to see our industry as an attractive place for a career.

“When we look back on this conference, all should be able to say these couple of days should make a difference. There is no time to waste. This is a good time to reposition ETSA in the European arena and beyond.”

Lai, following her welcome to delegates, handed over to Andreas Holzer, ETSA Board chairman and managing director of Bardusch, saying: “This chairman is doing everything with commitment and passion.”

Holzer addressed the room: “We not only have a new director general of ETSA but also a complete refresh of the organisation since she arrived.” Like ETSA, he suggested, the industry post-Covid, is not only reopening but also restarting. “Now it is facing unexpected and frightening challenges. I can confidently say that the industry showed resilience and agility and came out stronger with a great tailwind behind it. Hygiene, circularity, sustainability – people want to hear about this. Customers are willing to push high investment strategies.

“Some businesses have returned to pre-Covid revenues, for some it is still a challenge. There are problems to be faced. Notably these are the supply chain because of the war in and the post-Covid economic situation, inflation is back with a vengeance, and we are on the stairway to Hell on energy prices. There has been a geo-political shift after thinking Covid was over. How to cope? Looking around I can see how. There are so many here who do not and will not give up. Working in our industry has never been a cake walk but there is no doubt the textile services industry continues to survive because of the outstanding people in it across Europe, the world and the United States.

“It would be foolish to think we will not face any obstacles. Uncertainty is the new normal. The message in such times, life the universe and everything, current and future challenge despite doomsday press articles, is that we must work together.” Holzer is in complete agreement with legendary French mime artist Jaques Tati who said: “Those who feel too big to perform small tasks are too small to be entrusted with large tasks.”

Egidio Paoletti, president of Assosistema Confindustria, the Italian textile services association, has 40 years’ experience at linen rental business Alsco Italia where he has risen to become managing director. As the head of the national association in the host country, he welcomed delegates to the event and relayed news of the association’s considerable achievements and its goals going forward.

“When Covid started, useful information from national associations in order to place them in the website in order to provide and share material of interest. We asked for support measures from the EU, and wrote a precis highlighting how our sector is absolutely key to providing services. The past two years have been tough and now we are in the middle of a war – and they are at our doors,” said Paoletti. “We are also dealing with a hike in energy prices – Assosistema is demanding 30% Government relief to pay for energy. We are confident we can use our platform to discuss lobbying actions and be able represent interests at international level. We must join forces to demand the support for our sector.

“The world is about to go through its biggest social transformation since the industrial revolution. Governments, businesses, industry and individuals must play their part. With a model of circular economy we can help EU governments and we can share our best practice, skills, innovation and so on as well as best ways to develop environmental systems,” concluded Paoletti.

According to the Collins English Dictionary, if you say that someone is going round in circles or around in circles, you mean that they are not achieving anything because they keep coming back to the same point or problem. In the case of the European (and global) textile and textile services industries, completing the circle is probably the best thing we can do at this time. The circular economy has to be part of the way forward for the survival of businesses and the planet, delegates heard from each and every presentation. For once, it seems, going around in circles is a good thing and something we should all aspire to.

The new normal

Charles Betteridge, vice president, global corporate accounts at Christeyns and chairman of the UK Textile Services Association. (TSA) moderated a session on the ‘new normal’. The panel included Thomas Krautschneider from Salesianer , Juha Laurio from Lindström, Marcel Willems from TenCate, Miguel Pablo from Chainge and Joseph Ricci, pictured, from TRSA, the North American linen rental association. So just how did laundries cope in Covid?

Willems explained he operates in different markets to his fellow panelists – Asia and Africa. “Out of 100 laundries, none closed and the industry was valued during the crisis.” However, Krautschneider observed that different states gave different aid and different sectors fared differently. “Hospital laundries saw a big dip, but hospitality came to a complete halt and were in general very badly hit.”

Ricci said things were very similar in the USA. “Geography was a big factor. Some laundries shut down. In healthcare the lack of elective surgery was a big factor but now they are 90-92% per cent recovered.

“Hospitality will not be bouncing back until business travel starts again, including commuters because people working from home. New York is a prime example. There is frustration and that will lead to consolidation,” prophesied Ricci. On sustainability, it was good to hear from Ricci that TRSA looks to Europe and the UK for inspiration, which he says is well ahead of the curve in this area.

Lario commented: “We are back to 2019 levels, but the mixture of travellers is very different. Business travellers are not yet back. Hotels may be busy in different areas than before…it is harder for them to adjust to this situation. But then we are hearing the pandemic is gone, but at same time, look at China, where restrictions are still very much in place.”

Pablo pointed out that although there was a drop in demand because of elective surgery being put on hold, there was a massive increase in demand for PPE gowns where the industry reacted in a good way to help out. “The whole supply chain coming from China collapsed a and then we saw the local supply chain reprocessing. I do hope this message is picked up. Hopefully people won’t forget when the supply chain picks up again,” he said.

Willems commented on his particular market saying he is still seeing the automotive sector suffering, but utilities are picking up quickly. “However,” he explained, “after cutting back on ordering during the pandemic to adjust stock levels, we’re having problems now to adjust up. It is quite a challenge. Hyper-inflation is a factor and it will last quite a while after the effects of the pandemic.”

On attracting labour back to laundries post-pandemic, Krautschneider said: “People are not queuing up in front of the plants. The labour market is tight. In Dublin (ETSA Congress 2019) we were discussing this then. Covid has not been beneficial to any sector in this regard.”

Nevertheless, he believes there are some positive outcomes to be laid at Covid’s door. New products, for example. “In the first weeks and months of Covid, hospitality laundries were sewing masks and gowns… and these new products are here to stay. Hygiene is in our DNA and is now so important in hotels where we might expect a shift from OPL [to industrial laundries] where there aren’t the same hygiene standards [which would lead to] investment in machinery and personnel. It is not all bad for linen,” he said.

Green recovery

ETSA chairman Andreas Holzer moderated a panel that started with him reiterarting what is on everybody’s mind in the textile services industry at the moment: “Emissions to be cut by 2030. The circular economy. Apple has now decided you can repair your phones and replace the battery – great news. Renting instead of selling. Operators give it back refurbish, re–rent… re-sell.”

Looking out on delegates in the room, Holzer asked: “How the Hell can we become circular? The EU says there are four issues food, housing mobility and you textile guys. We are going to make you more circular. In the textile service industry we don’t sell products, we sell solutions. One of our major goals is to explain the difference. We are the white sheep, but not all black sheep are bad…Circularity must be on everybody’s agenda.”

Providing some answers to Holzer’s query, the session featured a video from Amit Gautam of Textile Genesis on pioneering fibre-to-retail traceability platforms and how blockchain technology using ‘textile coins’ could herald a new future for textiles. For the uninitiated, according to, a blockchain is essentially a digital ledger of transactions that is duplicated and distributed across the entire network of computer systems on the blockchain. It is supposedly impossible to change, hack or cheat the system.

Following on, Jukka Pekka Ovaska presented on co-creating sustainable textile systems, and not by halves, saying he was here to argue not about doing one activity to close the circle but to adopt a systems strategy adding: “Using that point of view, completely redesign your company for a net impact on what it is a part of.” In other words, forget the traditional linear business layout, take all the different strands from raw materials, supply chain, product, end-of- life and bind them all together into a circle. “If you can view your company as part of broader system, there is a good chance your company will be one of the forerunners of the circular economy.”

Amaury Sartorius of Klopman spoke about new approaches to textile recycling and sustainability in the framework of the new EU Strategy for Sustainable Textiles. The last session of the workshop was given by Claire Bottineau of Elis, an example of a company’s engagement towards fighting climate change aligned with the Paris Agreements.

The EU Commission vision for 2030 textiles includes:

  • Long life
  • Recyclable
  • Made from recyclable fibres
  • Free of hazardous materials
  • Good for the environment
  • Producers responsible through chain

Sartorious said Klopman is participating in many projects from linear to circular and emphasised it is important for the industry to be involved. “We are looking at all options and want to be part of it. We are investing heavily in renaissance textiles – one of our largest circular economy projects.”

Attracting new talent

Dr Maren Otte, group director of corporate communications and corporate responsibilities at CWS moderated a second Green Recovery panel discussion focusing on attracting talent to the industry. Marie Hélène Pradines of the European Commission gave a video address on the ‘The EU PACT for Skills’ welcoming the panellists. Representing the younger generation Nikola Kašparová of APaC and Jean Carlo Alves da Silva of Elis had their own ideas on what can be done.

The panel also featured a presentation from the German textile services association DTV’s Andreas Schumacher who presented the new E-Washboard mobile app which puts E-learning in the hands of anyone with a mobile phone. He also discussed ‘Educate!’ the EU-funded project on which ETSA has worked extensively with national associations.

ETSA has partnered with Heurekanet, the Belgian Textile Federation, the German Textile Cleaning Association, the Laundry and Dry-Cleaning Association of the Czech Republic and the Swedish Textile Service Association in supporting the project ‘Improving E-learning in the textile care sector’ funded by ERASMUS +.

Schumacher explained that expanding industrial laundry, textile rentals and improved textile services overall, is one way Europe can embrace sustainability and circularity.

Professor Giorgos Demetriu of the Circular Economy Research Center gave a presentation on ‘Preparing young people’s domains of professional interest in the framework of the upcoming climate transformation’. Dr Hubertus Dieckmann, head of human resources at Alsco Germany, spoke on not only attracting new talents to the textile service industry, but also pondered on the best strategies for better staff retention and engagement.

Peer parliaments

Lai spoke of the Association’s work in two ‘Peer parliament’ workshops which it organised as EU Climate Ambassador, 2022 being the Commission’s ‘European Year of Youth’. Panellists included Jesper Jensen of Jensen Group.

Representing the interests of the younger generation were ETSA’s own Nikolas Schulze – Makuch, attending his first congress and Nikola Kašparová of APaC. Jean Carlo Alves da Silva of Elis and Janne Fillet from the European Commission also had their say. The panel began with a video summary of the two previous ETSA Peer Parliaments and concluded with the CEOs and the younger generation debating the importance of committing to sustainability and circularity, and the drive to constantly improve and to strive collectively for a better and more environmentally conscious world.

Fillet commented: “We should be trying to bridge the gap between the ‘Brussels Bubble’ and what is discussed around the kitchen table or on the work floor. We need to give young people a voice as it is important that they voice their opinions. We don’t want huge a gap between generations. We need to attract new talent, listen to what they say and that will help you innovate and remain competitive.”


Association director general Elena Lai at the recent ETSA Congress in Rome detailed some of ETSA’s proudest moments in the past 18 months, especially its cooperation in its various working groups. The textile services industry is one of many European industries which is looking to improve and innovate itself within the paradigms set by the EU Green Deal and EU Climate Pact and ETSA has been extremely pro-active in this regard, she said. ETSA brings together national associations from around Europe, including the UK.

“We are repositioning ETSA within the EU map. But, they need to know more about what we do as there is confusion over ‘textiles’ and ‘textile services’. It has been a long year of explaining that we synergise but we are not the same. We must project more and more – we are powerful in that way. There were a lot of applications for the EU Commission Climate Ambassadorship and we lobbied hard and we got it,” she said.

Lai paid tribute to the legacy of former ETSA director general Robert Long and said that ETSA continues to strengthen its lobbying strategy. “This will continue over the next two, three or five years and we need senior management level to be involved or we won’t be effective.”

Steering groups have been set up across National Associations as well as diverse webinars and projects. Webinars, which have proved their worth in Covid times, will continue along with in-person meetings. Projects include the TSA initiative on wash temperature which it is conducting with De Montfort University in the UK which has been well supported in the press.

“Last but not least, we are strengthening links with our global network, for example, TRSA and its CEO Joe Ricci in North America.” Lai also pointed to the importance of international exhibitions for networking such as the upcoming Clean Show in Atlanta and ExpoDetergo in Milan for communications and synergies. “All of you can come and exchange views and information and make business. Go to exhibitions!” she urged.


The new ETSA Awards recognise the most accomplished and innovative projects run by ETSA members. The first ETSA Awards took place on 12 May at the Association’s Congress in Rome last month. There were many nominees with innovative projects for the award category ‘Best Innovative Project’, and the winner was Lindström Oy, for its project ‘Workwear Flex’, representing a new digitalised approach to their market.

With the RFID tagged workwear to enable traceability and optimise the workwear inventory levels they were thereby able to increase efficiency. This solves the problem of the traditional workwear rental model, which is based on personalised items with limited flexibility and availability to optimise inventory levels. This often leads to overstocking, and even in industries with strict hygiene requirements there often is a lack of hygiene guideline adherence. The new Workwear Flex, as it was re-branded and improved in 2020, allows for customers to keep track of workwear in stock, in use, and in the laundry. The award was presented to Juha Laurio.

The Sustainable Leadership and Recycling Award, went to Hr Bjorkmans Entrémattor for its water recycling project, which consisted of a new water recycling system that took nearly two years to develop. Today, it now allows for 98% of their dirty water and laundry water to be recycled. This will save around 16 million litres of water annually. The patented closed water recycling system uses low washing temperatures and special detergents in order to increase the water reuse rate up to 98%, this has resulted in sizable energy and water savings. The system has also prevented a large volume of used and contaminated water from entering the municipal wastewater treatment cycle.

The winner of the Corporate Social Responsibility Award went to Bardusch Beteiligungen, Wolfram Rees, who was the head of the project along with the other managing directors, accepted the award with Marco Marcone. ‘150 of years Bardusch - 150 projects for a sustainable future’ was put into place in 2021, denoting Bardusch’s 150th anniversary. As the main part of all activities for the anniversary, Bardusch’s group decided that they wanted to give back to the employees and local communities that embedded and enabled the company’s success over the last 150 years. The idea behind this was to give every employee in every Bardusch site, location and country the opportunity to name their own outstanding ideas, local or regional CSR projects that they think should be supported, then Bardusch might support said project.

  • Find out more about ETSA here
  • Find out more about director general Elena Lai here

GETTING STARTED: Circularity is the only way to go, delegates heard
ELENA LAI: ‘We must adapt to a chaing world’
ANDREAS HOLZER: “We are gling to make you more circular”
CLAIRE BOTTINEAU: Fighting climate change with Elis
WINNING STREAK: Elena Lai and Andreas Holzer teamed up to announce the winners of the inaugural ETSA Awards

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