How uvex is setting new benchmarks in sustainability

From its “protecting planet” range to detailed carbon calculations, uvex is setting new standards in sustainable PPE (Personal Protective Equipment).

Since 1926, uvex has been dedicated to protecting people. The company creates personal protective equipment from head to toe that precisely delivers the protection workers need.

Protecting the planet is the natural continuation of this mission. With CO2 emissions rocketing and global warming soaring, the climate crisis is escalating rapidly. It is only possible to protect people, therefore, by working to preserve and protect the environment.

In little more than a decade, uvex has implemented a considerable number of measures to improve its green credentials and reduced its CO2 footprint by 70% (in scope 1 and 2). High quality standards for products are combined with the development of recycling concepts and the use of bio-based materials. The durability and long service life of uvex products help to reduce waste and conserve resources.

Verena Keller

Sustainability Development Lead at uvex safety

I believe that sustainability is the future of any type of business. Our mission is built around the ‘three pillars’ of sustainable development: environmental, social, and economic. Just as we need to maintain successful turnover and sales, we need to achieve success with respect to ecological and social aspects and that will only work in combination and is never the one or the other.

Sustainability from the ground up

uvex has launched a comprehensive range of PPE products featuring a “protecting planet” label, which offers maximum transparency and information about the company’s sustainability activities.

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Product innovation

uvex has launched a comprehensive range of PPE products featuring a “protecting planet” label, which offers maximum transparency and information about the company’s sustainability activities. The range demonstrates uvex’s commitment to reducing CO2 emissions, waste, materials, water consumption and energy, without compromising quality or wearability.

For example, uvex is the first company to have successfully integrated granulate made of polyurethane surplus from its own production processes into the direct injected midsole of its safety shoes with no impact on the footwear’s performance. Thanks to this innovation, uvex can now reuse and recycle some of its PU surplus, which has already been reduced in quantity.

The uvex 1 G2 planet was introduced to the German market last year with a recycled content of 25%, and it has since become even more sustainable with an increased recycled content of 30% thanks to the recycled material in the midsole**. This development has also been extended to the entire uvex 1 G2 range of products. The goal is for every footwear model in the uvex range to have at least one recycled or bio-based component in it by the end of 2023.

As well as footwear, uvex also manufactures a range of helmets, gloves, earplugs and protective eyewear using at least one sustainable, recycled and/or bio-based material component and packaged in recycled materials. In addition, nearly 100% of the power used to manufacture the uvex xact-fit planet earplugs comes from renewable energy sources.

Sustainability from the ground up

uvex is working hard to increase energy efficiency in its manufacturing facilities and has set clear goals and defined measures to become carbon-neutral by 2045. uvex's top priority is the avoidance of greenhouse gases. If it is not possible to avoid greenhouse gas emissions, they must be reduced to the absolute minimum so that only those emissions that are unavoidable are offset via certified climate protection projects.

uvex safety has been using green electricity since 2014 with over 90% of the energy consumed coming from green energy sources – generating annual CO2 savings. It utilises solar panels at its factories, which are all based in Europe, and measures and monitors its consumption of water at production facilities to identify opportunities to reduce usage. Other initiatives include insulating its buildings with recycled materials, solvent free manufacturing at its glove's facility meaning there is no impact on human health or the environment. uvex has also installed motion detector lighting systems, refrigeration and air conditioning concepts to minimise CO2. Significant investment has also gone into developing machines that support sustainable production while ensuring there is no compromise on product performance and quality.

uvex has also built a new logistics centre, which has been awarded gold pre-certification by the German Sustainable Building Council (German abbreviation DGNB (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Nachhaltiges Bauen) which measures the sustainable, environmental, economic and sociocultural factors of a building." All these sustainable practices are possible because the company is 100% owned by the uvex safety group and it manufactures over 61% of all products in its own facilities.

uvex utilises solar panels at its factories

Calculating carbon savings

Building on the “protecting planet” range, the company can also now provide data on the amount of greenhouse gases its products generate. With the CSRD and EU Taxonomy Regulation coming into force, the carbon footprint of every product used in a company becomes an important part of its overall carbon footprint.

As there are multiple greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming, CO2 equivalent (CO2 –eq) provides a standardised assessment of their effects. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the most well-known greenhouse gas and serves as the reference value with a CO2 equivalent of 1. Other greenhouse gases such as methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) have a much stronger warming effect on the Earth's atmosphere than CO2, thus they have higher CO2 equivalents. The CO2 equivalent of a greenhouse gas indicates how much that gas contributes to global warming compared to CO2.

The CO2 -eq values allow for comparisons between standard uvex products and those with sustainable features, such as proportions of recycled or bio-based materials. The amount of CO2 saved per product can easily be extrapolated to the number of employees in a company. This can quickly lead to significant savings in relation to the service life, thus immediately reducing the company's CO2 footprint.

For example, a uvex 1 G2 planet with 30% degranulated material 7.2kg (7.17kg) CO2 saves 1.3kg CO2, the standard model of the uvex 1 G2 with a knitted shaft with 8.5 kg CO2. Assuming a service life of 12 months, this would be just under one tonne of CO2 per year for 900 employees. That is equivalent to a journey of 4,900 kilometres with a mid-range petrol engine.

To calculate the CO2 footprint of a product, uvex uses SimaPro software based on the ecoinvent database, which contains life cycle inventory data on energy, materials and transportation etc.

“This software examines where the various components are produced, the production processes, transport routes and methods as well as any disposal processes,” Keller adds. “The result, including any background processes is calculated using the data obtained. There are so many different factors when making a product that we recognise it is a long-term project to have precise figures for every single part of a product, but it provides a highly detailed estimate. And as developments are taking place continuously it is becoming increasingly precise. The process is done according to ISO 14067 and allows us to produce very authentic carbon footprint figures.”

The calculations represent an important step forward, helping buyers to better understand which companies and products are truly sustainable.

Verena Keller

Sustainability Development Lead at uvex safety

We need to bring transparency into the whole field of sustainability. Providing these figures is a huge achievement because it means we can show something tangible rather than just relying on claims. I’m confident that we’re going to compare the CO2 emissions of products in the future and it’s going to be quite normal, just as we compare the prices of products.

Verena Keller

Growing demand for data

With sustainability woven into the fabric of the company, uvex is well-placed to assist with the growing interest in calculating carbon emissions – particularly in certain industries such as automotive. Keller says: “The European Green Deal has set the target that Europe will be the first climate-neutral continent by 2050. This means saving CO2 for companies will become as natural as saving costs, because CO2 will cost money directly and indirectly through CO2 pricing.”

Companies’ carbon footprints include not only what they themselves emit during the manufacturing process but also anything they source. These are categorised as Scope 3 emissions and the data is something that uvex’s customers are specifically demanding, making the company’s ability to provide carbon footprint data at component and product level a huge selling point.

More sustainable requirements are also appearing on tenders, with businesses such as large construction companies looking for partners that can offer evidence-based initiatives to help them to achieve their sustainable credentials and win business.

There is also growing recognition that partnering with a knowledge provider like uvex can be invaluable in helping to educate and guide customers through the maze of sustainable policies and practices.

Looking ahead

uvex has been blazing a trail for sustainability within the industry for some time. Ultimately, the company wants to help transform our linear economy into a circular one.

Keller says: “We’re not just saying, ‘OK, we'll include recycled content in our products, tech, sustainable product – done.’ It’s about rethinking the whole concept and the way we might approach business models and service models in the future. Circularity means keeping the product or the materials of the product in the loop as long as we can. Beyond that, it means thinking about refurbishing options and biodegradability. Composting, for example, means closing the biological loop.”

Creating circular PPE is a bold vision but, for uvex, it’s just one more step along a road the company has been walking down for decades.

**Calculated in accordance with DIN EN ISO 14021:2016

About uvex group

The uvex group unites four companies under one roof: the uvex safety group, the uvex sports group (uvex sports and ALPINA), the Filtral group (Filtral and Primetta) and Protecting People GmbH for the B2C business. The uvex group is represented by 49 branches in 22 countries and produces by conviction with a focus on Germany. 60 percent of the nearly 3,000 employees (as of FY 2020/21) are based in Germany. uvex is a global partner to top international sports as an outfitter to countless top athletes. The guiding principle of protecting people is both a mission and an obligation. To this end, the uvex group develops, produces and sells products and services for the safety and protection of people in the professional, sports and leisure sectors.