A Thank You to Building Owners and Managers

Many building owners and facility managers are unaware of it, but they are changing the professional cleaning industry… again.

Let me explain. Fifteen or more years ago, when advocates started promoting the many reasons to adopt environmentally preferable cleaning solutions, tools, and equipment, one of the big stumbling blocks was that many janitorial manufacturers, as well as distributors, did not believe there was a “call” for the products.

The traditional cleaning products that manufacturers had produced and distributors had marketed for decades were effective and had served building owners and managers well, so why change?

Adding even more impetus to their argument was the fact that in those days, it must be admitted that many Green cleaning solutions were costly and did not perform all that well, or at least as well as their traditional, non-Green counterparts.

But then, we started learning more about traditional cleaning products. Studies surfaced that verified traditional cleaning solutions could be a health risk to cleaning workers and building users, especially if misused. Further, published reports found that when environmentally preferable cleaning solutions were used in schools, along with more thorough and effective cleaning, it helped reduce asthma attacks, improve school attendance, and advance student performance.

This was a turning point. Pushed along with a directive from then President Bill Clinton, more school districts around the country soon instituted policies requiring the use of Green cleaning products, and building owners and managers were not far behind.

Owners and managers found that when they employed Green cleaning strategies, their properties were viewed as healthier and more efficiently operated. They began attracting better and longer-lasting tenants because of this and could even ask more in rent than comparable buildings not practicing Green cleaning programs.

The result of all this: building owners and managers began demanding Green cleaning products.

The professional cleaning industry heard the call, and manufacturers and distributors answered by introducing and marketing environmentally preferable alternatives to most traditional cleaning products. Plus, with new technologies, these new products proved effective and cost-effective as well.

The New Direction

Green cleaning is now mainstream in most facilities in North America. Most of the time, it’s a “done deal.”

But now building owners and managers are asking something new of the professional cleaning industry, and that is to be more sustainability-focused. As these building owners and managers adopt sustainability practices in their own properties, they want their vendors – including janitorial distributors and cleaning contractors – to be implementing sustainability practices in their business operations as well.

They want to work with vendors that treat their workers fairly, provide benefits, pay living wages, and also give back to their local communities. In short, they want everyone on the same “sustainability team.”

Many building owners and managers view sustainability today as they did Green cleaning 15 years ago. It indicates to tenants and potential tenants that their facilities are well operated and efficient. Once again, this is helping them attract better and longer-lasting tenants. Plus, they are finding operating more efficiently and practicing sustainability have resulted in cost savings… an added benefit.

So how are they encouraging the professional cleaning industry to become more sustainable?

Many now require sustainability reports to be included in requests for proposals (RFPs) from janitorial distributors as well as cleaning contractors. They are following the example of some of the largest companies in the country. This is part of a trend that looks like it is gathering steam and will continue into the foreseeable future. According to the Governance and Accountability Institute:

Sustainability reporting rose dramatically from 2011, when roughly 20 percent of [Standard & Poor’s 500] companies published reports, to 72 percent just [two] years later in 2013. From 2013 to 2017, the frequency of reporting has increased each year, now up to 85 percent of companies reporting in 2017.*

This demand is trickling through the entire professional cleaning industry, just as Green cleaning did years ago. Distributors and others in the industry are accessing sustainability tools to help them measure their sustainability practices. These tools include online sustainability “dashboard” technologies, now available through ISSA, the worldwide cleaning association, and other organizations to measure and monitor their use of energy, water, fuel, waste, and other metrics.

Other industries will build on this and together we can make a cleaner, healthier world.

Stephen P. Ashkin is president of The Ashkin Group, a consulting firm specializing in Green cleaning and sustainability. He is considered the “father of Green Cleaning,” is on the board of the Green Sports Alliance, and has been inducted into the International Green Industry Hall of Fame (IGIHOF). He is now helping jansan professionals turn sustainability into cost savings. He can be reached at steveashkin@ashkingroup.com.


* Flash Report: 85% of S&P 500 Index® Companies Publish Sustainability Reports in 2017, 3BL Media; The Standard & Poor’s 500 is an index of the 500 largest publicly traded companies in the United States. They are viewed as corporate bellwethers when it comes to the economy as well as business operations.




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