Linens for Life has a simple but powerful objective: to empower people displaced by disasters with support from Diversey and its hotel customers. With this program, several families in a community are able to earn a small livelihood by converting linens discarded by hotels into new and useful items that they can sell. At the same time, hotels can recycle their unwanted linens in a way that makes a real difference, helping people who have lost everything in a natural disaster and who reside in refugee camps.
“Linens for Life aims to provide a livelihood to local communities through creative conversions of used lines into items for sale,” said Stefan Phang, the project’s founder.
Communities receive basic training on how to sew and use sewing machines donated by Diversey. A local charity is trained to operate the program. Once trained, they can work at a refugee camp’s communal building to give a new lease on life to the linen donated by the hotels. Items created include pillow cases, tote bags and simple clothing, which are then sold to earn a small income for the people who made them.
Every year, a typical 400-room hotel generates about two to three metric tons of used linen – bedsheets, pillow cases, towels, table clothes, employee uniforms, and the like. Two to three tons. That’s a lot of linen. For Diversey’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) team, it’s also a lot of opportunity.
Powered by the imagination and inexhaustible energy of Sustainability and CSR Director Stefan Phang, Diversey pioneered Linens For Life™, a program to recycle hotels’ used linens to help meet the needs of local communities. Its objectives are threefold: to help with immediate disaster relief efforts; to provide livelihoods to local communities and vulnerable social groups through various recycling initiatives; and to help hotels reduce waste.
To date, Diversey has launched more than 23 Linens For Life projects in a total of 15 cities across Asia, Middle East and Africa. Used linens collected by participating hotels are distributed by Diversey to non-governmental organizations and local communities to be reused or recycled. Those projects have provided sustainable livelihoods to approximately 700 people.
In late 2017, thanks to Diversey’s global partnership with Hilton Hotels and Resorts, Linens For Life expanded to the Hilton Athens in Greece. Diversey and Hilton also are working to launch Linens For Life programs soon in other countries in Europe and in the United States.
The project in Greece has provided an uplifting example of what imagination and teamwork can do to repurpose the used linens hotels generate. Diversey brought together the Family Support Center of the Holy Archdiocese of Athens and an organization called Knit2Lead. Together they taught poor and abused women to sew. Hilton Athens provided the linens. The women then transformed those linens into original creations that they sold during a Christmas bazaar that they held in the Hilton Athens lobby.
“I strongly believe that people don’t want charity, they want to work. When we can give them livelihood, they are happy and confident that they can make money and create value. The project is about environmental and social protection, and hygiene as well. That’s why we call it Linens for Life. It’s life and livelihood.”