We’ve come such a long way when it comes to environmentally preferable cleaning that it is a bit astonishing to look back at its evolution. A decade ago, many jansan manufacturers were still a bit hesitant to jump on the “Green bandwagon.” Looking back now, this is understandable. Introducing an entire new line of cleaning products is costly, and there was concern about end-customer demand for those environmentally preferable cleaning products. What many jansan manufacturers decided to do was take a “wait and see” attitude…wait until it was clear that the demand for Green Cleaning products was real.
Now, in many parts of the world, and this is true in Australia as well, most facility managers, especially the managers of large facilities, are primarily interested in selecting Green cleaning products. They will select a traditional cleaning product only if there is no alternative…a situation we rarely see today.
Further, we are now witnessing another trend in environmentally preferable cleaning and that is the movement toward sustainability. Most likely you have encountered this already, and very soon more and more Australian building owners and managers will be as focused on sustainability issues as they were on Green Cleaning issues a few years back.
However, the first thing cleaning professionals need to know is that Green Cleaning and sustainability are not the same thing. And to add more confusion, the meaning of sustainability has been evolving and includes much more than it did 20 years ago.
Possibly the following definitions will clear the matter up:
Green Cleaning refers to the use of cleaning solutions, tools, as well as equipment that have a reduced impact on the user, building users, and the environment as compared to similar products used for the same purposes. We should add that an effective Green Cleaning program today involves how those products are actually used when performing cleaning tasks. That’s why ISSA’s CIMS-GB program was created; it teaches cleaning workers “best practices” as well as proper procedures when using environmentally preferable cleaning products.*
Sustainability originally just referred to reducing the use of natural resources so that they would be available for future generations. While that is still a key part of what sustainability is all about, and is often referred to as the “planet” component, we must add two other components: people, generally referring to the people working for cleaning contractors as well as their local communities, and profits. We will discuss these components in greater detail below.
The People Component of Sustainability
Back in the 1970s and 1980s in the U.S., it was primarily just the larger contract cleaning companies that had health care packages for their workers and paid employment taxes along with their portion of their workers’ social security.** What most smaller cleaning contractors did at that time is outsource cleaning work to what were referred to at that time as “independent contractors.” The meant the contract cleaning company was not responsible for providing health care or the other items just mentioned for these independent contractors.
While these practices may have helped the smaller cleaning contractor offer more competitive bids, it was not always beneficial for the cleaning worker. With no health insurance, for instance, what does a cleaning worker do if they are sick or injured on the job? Cleaning is considered a higher risk job in the U.S. and many other parts of the world. Handling and mishandling powerful cleaning chemicals, as an example, can be potentially dangerous and has resulted in scores of injuries. If injured and faced with staggering health care expenses, many injured workers often have no choice but to declare bankruptcy.
A cleaning contractor with a sustainability program in place makes sure his or her staff is not put in such a difficult situation. Workers have health care benefits, are paid equitably, and treated fairly so that they can lead a healthy, dignified, and valuable life. We should add that this also means giving back to the local community. An example of giving back is Green Apple Day of Service. A cleaning contractor has the opportunity to provide cleaning or consulting to a local school or school district to help improve the health of a school facility.
The Profit Component
The first thing we must discuss about the profit component of sustainability is what it is not. A business is in business to make money, and this also means that a cleaning contractor employing sustainability initiatives is in business to make money. With that clarified, the profit component of sustainability includes such things as the following:
>Charging clients fair amounts for their services
>Ending practices, such as those discussed earlier, that are designed to focus only on profits, no matter how it impacts workers, the local community, or the cleaning industry in general
>Ensuring that the company remains profitable and grows
>Being transparent in business operations; one way some contractors do this is to include in their bid proposals how their charges are determined such as how much goes for workers, worker supervision, products, equipment, etc.
>Supporting local businesses to spread economic benefits within local the community
>Complying with all government regulations regarding professional cleaning and workers
Sustainability and a New Vision
When a cleaning contractor adopts these sustainability initiatives, they are actually creating a new vision for their companies. No longer is the focus just on profits, but all of the sustainability items we have just discussed. Visions serve many purposes, but most importantly they can define what your company is all about.
Such visions can inspire workers to support your company and become stakeholders in your business vision as well. This can result in greater staff loyalty, enhanced customer satisfaction, and less turnover…of workers and customers.
It also can set your business apart from your competitors. Just as Green Cleaning was used as a marketing tool years ago, a contractor that has adopted sustainability practices can use the change as a marketing tool today. And with sustainability likely to be one of the most important considerations in business operations in the future, it means many opportunities are likely to evolve.
Stephen P. Ashkin is president of The Ashkin Group, and the professional cleaning industry’s leading advocate for promoting sustainability. He is also CEO of Sustainability Dashboard Tools, which offers a cloud-based dashboard that allows organizations to measure, report and improve their sustainability efforts. He is the coauthor of both The Business of Green Cleaning and Green Cleaning for Dummies