Which is the most socio-eco-efficient shirt?

SEEBALANCE® Pilot Study: Men's Shirts

Not all men's shirts are the same! Apart from color and design, the material - cotton, polyester, or cotton/polyester blends - is an option to be considered when purchasing a new shirt. The eco-efficiency group at BASF and Karlsruhe University considered yet an additional issue: which is the most socio-eco-efficient shirt? Costs and environmental impact could be adequately examined as part of an Eco-Efficiency Analysis, but what about

  • impact on consumers (e.g. comfortableness, etc.)?
  • impact on employees (occupational disease, on-the-job accidents, salaries, etc.)?
  • impact on local and national community (jobs, equal opportunities, etc.)? or
  • impact on future generations (trainees, investments, etc.)?

To answer these questions a SEEBALANCE® was performed. The customer benefit included wearing, washing, drying and ironing of a blue men's shirt.

International issues are very relevant in this study, since the cotton considered was from China, where occupational safety considerations are not comparable to German ones. A copy of this study, completed as part of a thesis, can be obtained from the BASF eco-efficiency group.

The sustainability of the shirts as determined by the SEEBALANCE® are quite differentiated:

The three shirts compared included:

  • alternative 1: polyester shirt
  • alternative 2: cotton shirt
  • alternative 3: shirt made of a polyester/cotton blend (65% cotton, 35% polyester)

The polyester shirt is clearly the most socio-eco-efficient.

The polyester shirt is the best performer in two of the three sustainability dimensions (economy and environment). In second place is the cotton/polyester blend shirt. Worst performer is the cotton shirt. Many customers believe a cotton shirt to be most environmentally friendly since it is made of renewable resources. However, it turns out that the cotton shirt actually causes the greatest environmental impact, primarily because of the high energy consumption and the large amounts of fertilizers needed to grow the cotton. Use of pesticides has also an environmental impact.

The differences among the alternatives are even greater in the economic dimension. The synthetic material is significantly cheaper to produce.

Only on the societal axis are there no significant differences among the three alternatives.

The polyester shirt remains the most socio-eco-efficient one in various scenario and sensitivity calculations.