Shell purchases uniforms sustainably

Many companies want to purchase more sustainably, but how and where to start? And what's the next step? We checked in with Shell, where Nadine Vincent makes the uniforms of gas station employees more sustainable. “Our most important lesson is that a lot was already possible with our current supplier.”

Through the High Impact Procurement initiative – which the Amsterdam Economic Board has initiated with partners – dozens of companies, governments and educational institutions are working on making their procurement more sustainable. In this way they stimulate affordable, sustainable and local supply and demand of products and services that contribute to a smart, green and healthy future of the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area.

Shell has been involved in this initiative from the start and followed an impact track in 2020. Amsterdam Economic Board organized these meetings for participants from various departments of organizations within the Metropolitan Region. The participants each reviewed at least one of their procurement processes, that they wanted to make an impact on within six months. The purpose of the impact tracks was to ensure that the knowledge gained is immediately secured. “We did not yet have a standard procedure for making purchasing categories more sustainable, so we decided to choose a product group and learn from that process,” says Nadine Vincent, Supply Chain Lead at Shell.

Service station employee uniforms

That product group became uniforms for service station employees. Not only is it a tangible and recognizable product, but it is also easily scalable. This project focuses only on the Benelux and France, though Shell has petrol stations in more than 70 countries worldwide. The textile industry is working hard on becoming more sustainable, so there would already be sufficient supply.

It appeared the supply varied quite a bit, when Vincent asked a group of suppliers for more information. “We gave all parties maximum freedom to present creative solutions. What would be the most sustainable product the supplier could provide, how would they package it and attach the logo?”

‘Because Shell is such a large company, we can help expand the market for sustainable products’

The reactions Shell received varied enormously, but they were promising. After an internal presentation, Vincent received permission to launch a tender to make the current line of uniforms more sustainable, as well as the clothing for the new Shell Café concept. Vincent: “One dilemma was that we were actually very satisfied with De Waard Beroepskleding BV, our supplier: the price, quality and delivery were all good. Thanks to this tender, we found out that this supplier could actually do a lot with sustainable textiles and also had many other sustainable initiatives.”

Less emissions, less water

After a careful analysis, Shell decided to continue with De Waard. The supplier offered, among other things, a new fabric in the tender. A blend of recycled polyester, BCI cotton and kapok, which is more sustainable because it grows on a tree and requires relatively little water. The production of this blend requires approximately 90 percent less emissions and 70 percent less water than Shell’s current uniforms in the Benelux and France. Shell is currently testing the wearability and quality during intensive use with a group of employees. De Waard is also working on a project to move part of the clothing production to Europe, so the chain needs to cover less distance.

Apart from making the product more sustainable, Vincent also evaluates the processes surrounding the distribution and collection of the clothing, something that Shell has to make its own choices in. Vincent: “We now offer our staff about 40 different items and are investigating whether we can go back to about 20 different products. And we are thinking about an end-of-life solution, a collection point at every station that might be emptied by the many supply vans that come there every day.”

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Missing value opportunities

The most important lesson Vincent and her colleagues learned from this process? “We thought: if this is possible at all with this supplier, what opportunities to create more value are we missing in the rest of the supply chain? Shell is of course a major global player in the energy market, with a lot of emphasis on the energy transition and transition to sustainable energy sources. But these relatively small things are also important and should not be forgotten. If we don’t, we’re missing out on a lot. And precisely because we are such a large company, we can help increase the market for sustainable products and accelerate development.”

No, Shell’s employees are not yet walking around with the new, more sustainable clothing. Incorporating high impact purchasing is a process that takes months for larger organizations. Vincent hopes that the lessons from this process will contribute to the cultural change that is underway at Shell. “We have already agreed that sustainability will become an important pillar in how we assess suppliers, so that it is integrated into our processes. And we will continue to follow the High Impact Procurement initiative. We received a lot of help during the impact track. There is a lot of energy behind this theme in the region and people are happy to share their knowledge and skills. In any case, that has helped me enormously.”

Join softshell jackets

This autumn, the Amsterdam Economic Board will start an initiative with partners around softshells: those nice jackets, used for employees and events. We use an innovative design for this initiative, which makes the jackets very suitable for recycling. The discarded coats are the raw material for new ones. So win-win! Do you want to join? Please contact Claire Teurlings.

13 June 2022

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