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, writes Kathy Bowry. Elena Lei, secretary general of ETSA presided over her first Congress since taking up the baton in 2020*.

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

Opening Congress, 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.”

Pictured: Elena 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, saying: “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.

• More ETSA Congress reports to follow