Solid Waste & Recycling

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Flying Fabric

Air Canada repurposes uniforms to divert 66 tonnes of clothing from landfills


Kelly, a volunteer at Brands for Canada ‘debrands’ uniforms.

Updating a corporate logo is a great way to modernize a company’s image and reflect the evolution of the brand. But for a company that also wants to maintain an image as a sustainable brand, rebranding can be risky, as it may require scrapping assets already in inventory.

Organizations typically have detailed guidelines in place to ensure their logos are always displayed in the proper formats. Once a brand has been updated, all items with the former logo and colour scheme need to be recalled, and require end-of-life management.

Reutilizing clothing with old logos is challenging because companies are reluctant to allow products with outdated branding to remain in circulation.

Partners in Project Green member Air Canada faced this challenge after re-designing their logo in 2017. The airline needed to update a wide range of products featuring the old logo and colour scheme. This included the company’s uniforms – material with outdated branding that the company nevertheless wanted to keep from ending up in landfill.

After the logos were removed, pilots’ uniforms were transformed into classic dark suits.

The clothing consisted primarily of business-style attire: collared shirts, blouses, dresses, blazers, and dress pants. It would clearly be of great value to various agencies, employment centres and other organizations dedicated to helping members of vulnerable communities find work.

But for security reasons, Air Canada could not donate items that displayed their branding. Air Canada logos could be used to impersonate staff, and allow unauthorized persons access to secure areas at airports.

Faced with this challenge some companies might have thrown up their hands and taken the easy route of shipping the material to landfill. Air Canada, however, was committed to finding a sustainable solution.

With the help of Partners in Project Green’s Material Exchange program, the airline connected with Brands for Canada, a charity that provides new clothing and personal care items donated by participating brands to people living in poverty.

Chelsea Quirke (r), manager, environmental
management waste programs
at Air Canada and Seamus Clarke, a
longtime Brands for Canada volunteer
and CEO of United in Change. United in
Change provides services and support
to Brands for Canada.

“At Air Canada, we work to leave less waste behind from our operations and do more in our communities,” said Chelsea Quirke, manager, environmental management waste programs for the airline. “When it came time to change to our new uniforms, we worked with Partners in Project Green and Brands for Canada to ensure that our uniforms were handled securely and in an environmentally sustainable way.”

“It was particularly important to us and our employees that the uniforms did not end up in the landfill,” she added. “Through the program with Brands for Canada, we are able to ensure that our uniforms are given a second life and that we’re giving back to the community.”

Brands for Canada distributes these materials through selected social service agencies serving a wide variety of people in need: abuse survivors, the homeless, at-risk youth, immigrants and refugees, people living with physical or mental disabilities, and individuals enrolled in job training or job search programs. With one in seven Canadian families living below the poverty line, Brands for Canada works with over 200 brands to donate $42 million worth of clothing and personal care items to families each year.

“Brands for Canada is extremely excited about our new program with Air Canada. This exceptional donation of new coats, work wear and business attire will provide invaluable care packages to help support thousands of Canadian families living below the poverty line,” said Helen Harakas, executive director of Brands for Canada.

Brands for Canada has the capacity to de-brand donated materials by removing or covering up logos. For example, they remove shirt collar tags and return these to the donating organization to maintain brand integrity. When it is not possible to remove a logo entirely, Brands for Canada can create a new look by removing or embroidering over signature components of the original design.

Brands for Canada used more than 10 different de-branding techniques to cover up or remove the old Air Canada logo from the donated uniforms. During the process, Brands for Canada developed design concepts and samples for Air Canada’s inspection, to confirm confidence and ensure that security around the logo was addressed.

For Air Canada pilot jackets, Brands for Canada carefully removed the gold brocade, the gold buttons and colour tag, transforming the uniform into a traditional dark suit jacket.

Flight attendant dresses proved a little more challenging as Air Canada logos were embroidered directly onto the fabric, and could not be removed without damaging the clothing. To get around this obstacle, Brands for Canada developed a new embroidery design, a Celtic knot, to conceal the logo.

Air Canada sent four truckloads of goods – approximately 50,000 items in all – to Brands for Canada. The exchange diverted approximately 66 tonnes of clothing from the landfill. Overall, Air Canada’s textile program has diverted 284 tonnes of material, equivalent to roughly the weight of two empty 787-9 Dreamliner jet airliners.

Once the material was de-branded, Brands for Canada used their distribution channels to donate the clothing to community groups in Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba, and British Colombia.

“This Material Exchange demonstrates how collaboration between Partners in Project Green members can greatly benefit both parties and improve sustainability,” says Dianne Zimmerman, senior manager of Partners in Project Green with the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA).

“We are proud of Air Canada’s commitment to finding sustainable solutions for their textiles, and thrilled that Brands for Canada was able to develop such innovative de-branding solutions to ensure this material was properly re-used.

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Catherine Leighton is coordinator, waste management, Partners in Project Green, Community Engagement and Outreach, Toronto and Region Conservation Authority.


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