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How ACS Clothing created a culture of sustainability

ACS Clothing has put sustainability at the heart of its business strategy. Providing fulfilment and refurbishment services to the fashion industry, the company has adopted greener practices which have significantly cut its operating costs, and put it on track to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2025.

27 Nov 2020 | 5 minute read

The rise in the sharing economy has transformed the global fashion industry. Changing consumer behaviours have created a rental market in the UK that's expected to rise to £2.3 billion by 2026.

As consumers move away from garment ownership to garment rental, ACS Clothing opens in a new window , based in Eurocentral, North Lanarkshire, has grown to become the largest rental fulfilment centre of its kind in Europe.

Anthony Burns, Chief Operating Officer at ACS, explains how its environmentally-conscious business decisions have created a culture of sustainability.

Making sustainable changes

At ACS Clothing, we consider ourselves a sustainable business in an industry not always known for its environmental credentials.

Typically, only 1% of materials used to manufacture clothing are recycled, which means one truck load of clothing ends up in landfill every second. At ACS, we’re addressing many of the environmental pitfalls commonly associated with the fashion industry so we can move towards a greener, more sustainable, low-carbon future.

The company was founded in 1997 and originally specialised in the rental of highland wear to the Scottish market. Today we offer end-to-end fulfilment for rental brands as well as garment refurbishment for brands with a high rate of clothing returns, and those in the re-commerce and re-sell market.

As a business that partners with brands in the rental and resale markets, we’ve always felt a responsibility to drive sustainable changes in our own operations. And to encourage a shift towards a circular economy, particularly as we're well placed to facilitate sustainable alternatives, like rental and resale, which are far better for the planet.

As consumers become more aware of the footprint of fashion, they're shifting their behaviours. They're either renting the latest trend, or shopping second-hand - because these are more sustainable options.

It's great to see a growing number of people make environmentally conscious choices. This has led to significant growth for our business and we don't envision this slowing down any time soon.

Net zero by 2025

While we're passionate about what we do, we realise that we need to do more than just enable retail brands to embrace sustainable and circular fashion. So, we've committed to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2025. We've created a culture where every decision we make as a business is influenced by our desire to reduce the footprint of fashion.

In line with our goals, we decided to transform our core business model and to rebrand ourselves as a company fully committed to sustainability. We put together a team of sustainability experts who look at every aspect of our business, calculate our current CO2 emissions and identify ways to reduce them.

We actively undertake multiple projects every year to reduce energy, water usage, environmental impact and waste. Instead of seeing green costs and risk, we see these as investments and opportunities which will give us a competitive advantage.

We also looked for expertise outside our organisation. In 2017 we began working closely with a sustainability specialist from Scottish Enterprise who has worked alongside us to provide a wealth of knowledge, consultancy, and networking opportunities.

More recently, in response to the growing number of employees working from home, we organised a series of workshops in conjunction with Home Energy Scotland to help employees be sustainable even when working remotely. It was important to us that environmental commitments wouldn’t be adversely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

A positive impact on business

Our commitment to sustainability has had a positive impact on our business. In 2014 we invested in ozone generation technology in the form of an eco-friendly ozone sanitisation chamber which allows us to sanitise up to 30,000 garments at any one time to a medical-grade standard. It's effective against bacteria, odours and even 99.8% of viruses – including Covid-19.

We can now confidently say that zero waste from our business ends up in landfill. In terms of scrap materials, 30% are reused and 70% are recycled. Reaching this landmark not only reduced our environmental impact but also reduced our waste management costs by 70%.

Our entire facility has been fitted with smart LED lighting which has reduced our energy costs by £25,000 and CO2 emissions by 25 tonnes per year. We've even reduced food waste by over 25% in our canteen.

Every decision we take as a business is influenced by our commitment to sustainability. Whether it's building our supply chain or evaluating our transport options, we are fully committed to reducing our CO2 emissions.

As a result, we’re now considered a leader in our industry. We regularly speak at conferences, workshops and academic lectures as we want to share our experience and our success with the leaders of tomorrow.

We also enjoy working with other brands with similar values. And collaborating with like-minded companies is a critical part of the global journey towards a greener future.

Could sustainable practices grow your business?

Our success hasn't come about by accident. A combination of passion and strategic business decision has enabled us to reduce our emissions, reduce our costs and grow our business.

By working closely with external partners like Scottish Enterprise, we’ve not only made significant strides towards becoming a net zero business, we’ve also created a working environment where our team feel valued, content, healthy and safe.

Many of the changes we’ve put in place could be easily replicated by companies across Scotland. Our hope is that more brands will adopt sustainable business models and that the success we've achieved will inspire others.

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