Sustainable procurement of self-owned and rental work clothes with laundry services - Case city of Helsinki

Food production workers wearing black work clothes.
Picture: Service Centre Helsinki, Jussi Hellsten

BACKGROUND INFORMATION

Procurer

City of Helsinki – Service Centre Helsinki

Object of the procurement

The objects of the procurement are the self-owned and rental work clothes used by Service Centre Helsinki, as well as laundry services for clothes. The competitive tendering consisted of four areas:

  1. work clothes of school, daycare and nursing employees and supervisors (self-owned),
  2. work clothes of the staff of lobby services, phone services and well-being services (self-owned),
  3. work clothes for Pakkala food production as a service (full service: renting including maintenance) and
  4. laundry services for the clothes of employees and supervisors in the nursing sector.

Procurement value

About 605,000 euros

Procurement procedure

Open procurement procedure

The object of the procurement

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The various operations of Service Centre Helsinki involve several types of work clothes – the tendering for work clothes for about 1,260 employees included 50 rows of product itemisations in total.

The objective of the procurement was to acquire durable, functional and safe work clothes. At the same time, aim was to increase awareness of the sustainability and climate goals being realised in the industry. Furthermore, cooperation during the contract period was sought to reduce the carbon footprint of work clothes and service production. In the procurement preparation phase, the lifecycle impacts of the usage stage of the work clothes were reviewed, such as how a centralised maintenance service differs from maintaining the clothes at home or at the workplace. The review was carried out in collaboration with Service Centre Helsinki, Helsinki City Construction Services and the Environmental Services of City of Helsinki. The results of the review will support the implementation of the City’s roadmap for circular and sharing economy. 

Experts and a separate review to support the procurement preparations

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The procurement was implemented by Service Centre Helsinki. In terms of sustainability, the experts of the Canemure project participated in the preparation of the procurement and the comparison of the tenders in cooperation with the sustainability experts of Service Centre Helsinki. On topics related to sustainability, Pro Ethical Trade Finland and Finnish Textile & Fashion were also consulted.

A review of the lifecycle impact of the procurement of work clothes was carried out by the Canemure sub-project in Helsinki. In the review, the emissions, water consumption and costs incurred during the usage stage, among other things, were studied for three entities of work clothes of Helsinki City Construction Services and Service Centre Helsinki. The calculation tool for assessing the review and impact in the future was developed by UseLess Company Oy.

The City’s climate actions as a basis

The City of Helsinki aims to be carbon-neutral by 2035, and to achieve this goal, climate-related matters are essential in the City’s procurements. According to the City’s roadmap for circular and sharing economy, procurements will be assessed in terms of durability, reuse potential and lifecycle impact. In addition to climate-positive and resource-wise actions, the City of Helsinki wants its procurements to be effective and responsible. 

The tendering for the work clothes and related maintenance services of the Service Centre Helsinki is one of the case procurements in the Towards Carbon Neutral Municipalities and Regions project (Canemure), which aims at low-carbon procurements. The objective is to achieve successful cases as examples and to produce applicable tools to support the City’s carbon-neutrality measures.

Dialoguing with the market about sustainability themes

The procurement was an extensive one since it involved the entire organisation and employees working in different parts of the metropolitan area. The preparations began well in advance and overall, the procurement took about 16 months from the start of the preparations to signing the contract. 

The market was involved in the preparations early on through a public discussion event, prior to which industry representatives had filled in a survey highlighting the sustainability themes essential to them, such as reducing chemicals, factory inspections, transportation and waste management. The dialogue continued through company-specific discussions, during which the market operators assessed the feasibility and cost effects of the potential sustainability criteria. The review on lifecycle impact was implemented after the market discussions before the call for tenders was published. 

Environmental and sustainability-related criteria as a key part of tendering

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To take the environmental impact of work clothes into consideration and to promote sustainability, specific requirements were prepared in terms of area-specific service descriptions, sustainability plans and procurement object criteria. In the sustainability plans, tenderers were required to be committed to development work during the contract period. The progress of the plans will be monitored annually.

Sustainability plan

The suppliers of work clothes (including the full service) were required to take action to promote:

  1. use of renewable energy, energy-efficiency, and smart water consumption
  2. sustainability of the fibres and fabrics used in the textiles included in the contract, as well as the transparency of the production chains of the supplier’s purchases
  3. using alternative fibres, such as recycled ones (exclusively from the patches or consumer waste of textile or clothes manufacturers) in the textiles included in the contract. Tenderers were also asked to state the percentage of recycled fibres used in the textiles included in the contract. 

The providers of laundry services (including the full service) were required to take action to promote: 

  1. use of renewable energy, energy-efficiency, and smart water consumption
  2. monitoring of the wash frequencies and preventing harmful chemicals and synthetic microplastics from ending up in nature, for example, with the help of sewage filters.

More specific requirements are described in the full case description (pdf)

Grounds for comparison

For work clothes to be self-owned (areas 1 and 2), it was possible to receive points for the functional features of the sample entities (20%) and a delivery time of less than a week (10%), in addition to the price (70%). For the work clothes for the Pakkala production centre procured as a full service (area 3), points could be received for a delivery time of less than a week (10%), in addition to the price (90%). Laundry services (area 4) were assessed based on the lowest price.

Contract terms and conditions

During the contract period, Service Centre Helsinki shall have the opportunity to use a calculation tool developed during the review of lifecycle impacts and to assess the carbon dioxide emissions, water consumption and costs of the procurement’s lifecycle. For the contract period, the opportunity to carry out one or two light inspections of the environmental impact shall be reserved. The inspections help identify the distribution of the environmental impacts in the work clothing procurement. 

For the inspection, the providers selected for the full service and the laundry services shall submit information on their average electricity consumption (kWh), gas consumption (m3) and water consumption (l) per kilogram of laundry in terms of washing and drying, including the proportions of fossil and renewable fuels. They shall also assist the client in the assessment of the service life and washing frequencies.

Various perspectives on taking environmental impact into consideration

Due to the extent of the procurement, many aspects needed to be considered during its preparation, including those related to sustainability. For example, requiring the use of recycled fibres and environmentally-friendly fibres of equal quality was not possible due to issues with low availability and higher prices. In addition to this, delving into the sustainability and environmental impact was challenging due to the complexity of the outsourcing network. To promote the impact of this procurement and similar ones, help will be required for developing criteria that better take the entire delivery chain into account. 

A lifecycle review comparing the procurement methods required that the current situation be first charted in terms of service life, washing cycles, volumes and cost information, among other elements, which required resources and partial reliance on assumptions. The comparison of procurement methods did not yield unambiguous results that could have directed the procurement preparations. However, based on the review, it was possible to include procurement criteria that were significant in terms of the impact on climate and the environment. 

Sustainability criteria affected the choice of contract partners

As a result, 2–4 tenders were received for each area, excluding the laundry services, for which no tenders were received. Based on the tenders, there were clear differences among the operators regarding how sustainability was taken into consideration. This was particularly evident in the content of the sustainability plans. It must be admitted that if specific descriptions are required during the tendering phase, the instructions for these must be unambiguous and sufficient resources must be reserved for evaluating them. 

The sustainability criteria used in the tendering influenced the choice of the final contract partners. However, the use of the criteria was not considered to have an impact on cost. A key achievement was increasing the dialogue about sustainability and climate action of the market during the contract period. Successful use of the criteria also helped us communicate the level of sustainability requirements of the City and Service Centre Helsinki to the market. 

The development of work clothing procurements will continue

As such, both the tendering and the review yielded plenty of information and templates that can be used when steering the planning of work clothing procurements in the future. By the next tendering round, the industry is sure to have taken major steps in climate action and sustainability, and the tendering and its requirements will be developed with regard to these. The plan is to establish the use of the calculation tool developed as part of the review, so that emissions and cost data can be acquired for decision-making. 

Prolonging the service life of work clothing is a key way of influencing the emissions of the procurement, which is why Service Centre Helsinki aims to efficiently communicate to its employees about sustainability, maintenance opportunities and the appropriate recycling of old work clothes. The aim is also to increase cooperation and exchange of information within the City to develop the procurements of work clothes.

A separate review increased the understanding of environmental impact

Implementing the review of the lifecycle impact of the work clothing procurements in connection with the procurement preparations was an important learning experience. The review helped to understand the distribution of environmental impact during the usage phase of the clothes and proved some preconceptions wrong. According to the review, the proportion of natural gas used for drying clothes in the centralised maintenance scheme was a significant source of emissions, while the proportion of transport, which is done fairly ecologically in the industry, was very low. 

Sharing knowledge

The preparation of procurements becomes more reliable through sufficient resources and market dialogue. It is important that the procurement unit clarifies what the promotion of sustainability means for procurements, and what kinds of prioritisation can be made or are even necessary to make. Furthermore, the fulfillment of the sustainability criteria should be verified with the sustainability experts of the company. If a separate review is attached to the procurements, it is optimal if the results are available for the goal-setting before market dialogue is initiated.

The results of the review of the lifecycle impact of the work clothing procurement are available to all, as is the calculation tool developed during the review. The review focused on the comparison of the lifecycle impact of the procurement methods’ usage stage, but it also explains the significance of the work clothes’ initial and final parts of the cycle in terms of climate impact. Thanks to the review, awareness of resource-wise procurement methods with reasonable lifecycle impact was increased. This information will support the preparation of recommendations, illustration of future guidelines and the preparation of tendering processes.

Additional information

The city of Helsinki: Full Case-description - Self-owned and rental work clothes with laundry services (pdf)

Contact persons

Elina Tarkkonen, development manager, Service Centre Helsinki
Saara Ojanen, procurement specialist, Service Centre Helsinki
Reetta Huomo, project coordinator (CANEMURE), City of Helsinki

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