Typically, when cleaning professionals, carpet cleaning technicians, and building owners and managers hear the word “sustainable” or “sustainability” in reference to cleaning, they think of the use of Green Cleaning solutions.  This is not entirely correct.  The key aspect of Green Cleaning solutions girl using black laptop computerthat makes them more sustainable is the fact that they are typically made from renewable resources, and no petroleum byproducts, commonly found in traditional cleaning solutions.

However, sustainable cleaning is much more. One of the first aspects of sustainable cleaning is very merely asking: does this cleaning task need to be performed or does this space need to be cleaned?

For instance, the requests for proposals (RFPs), also known as “tenders,” often specify that hard surface floors be stripped and refinished twice per year.  But refinishing a floor involves the use of very powerful cleaning solutions, many of which are not environmentally preferable, considerable amounts of water, two to several mop heads, and the use of low-speed floor machines.  By taking steps to stretch refinishing cycles to 12 and even 18 months, we are doing the following:

  • Not using cleaning solutions, which not only may be made of non-renewable resources, including petroleum, but also require energy when manufactured; possibly packaged in non-recycled paper; and delivered, requiring fuel, which likely is releasing greenhouse gasses
  • Reducing the need for water in cleaning, which can be a crucial concern in areas of the world such as the UK, now experiencing water shortages, helping protect vital natural resources
  • The mops must be manufactured, requiring materials and energy, shipped requiring fuel, and delivered, again likely releasing greenhouse gasses
  • The floor machine requires electricity to operate, and when stripping a floor, the amount of energy necessary would likely be more than the amount used when polishing the floor.

The same is true of carpet cleaning.  For instance, all too often, the RFP requires carpet in the C-suite to be cleaned every two or four months.  But the C-suite typically has the fewest number of people working in it, and these people are often traveling, so they are frequently away from the office.  In many situations, the carpet in the C-suite will remain clean and healthy even if cleaned just once per year.

Beyond Need

Determining what tasks and what areas of a facility need to be cleaned and how often is a significant step in reducing cleaning’s impact on the environment as well as bringing sustainability into the cleaning process.  Here are some additional ways to do this:

Cold water carpet extractors. At this point, several effective cleaning solutions work well with cold water. Using a cold water extractor is effective and reduces energy consumption considerably.

No-chemical cleaning systems. The use of ozone generating systems and engineered water to clean surfaces eliminates the need for cleaning solutions. Eliminating the need for packaging, shipping, and fuel.

Hybrid or electric cars. While the price of gasoline in Ireland has recently come down, most of the year it’s been a roller coaster, up some weeks, down others. Switching to hybrid or electric cars reduces or eliminates the need for fuel. Plus it can reduce carbon emissions by more than 90 percent and nitrogen oxide emissions by as much as 60 percent.

GPS driving. Dublin is now rated the sixth most traffic-congested city in Europe with a congestion “ranking” of 35 percent.  This means that travel times by car in Dublin are 35 percent more than in other parts of Europe. A GPS system can suggest alternative routes that can avoid this traffic, and in so doing, reduce fuel consumption, carbon emissions, and rattled “nerves.”

Equipment maintenance. Equipment, whether it is floor machines, carpet extractors, or vacuum cleaners, last longer and perform more efficiently when they are maintained regularly. Plus, they often use considerably less electricity. If the equipment includes a maintenance plan, which many carpet extractors do, adhere to it strictly.

Sustainability in Your Own Business

Our sustainability focus here so far has been primarily on ways to reduce the need for energy, fuel, and natural resources in professional cleaning as well as reducing cleaning’s impact on the environment. But there are four more components of sustainability we need to address. These are the following:


Efficiency refers to long-term changes that help a business reduce consumption and operate more effectively, which results in cost savings. For instance, the largest expenditure for cleaning professionals is labor. Proper training teaches workers to perform their tasks faster and more effectively, improving worker productivity, use natural resources more sparingly, and reduce waste.


In many parts of the world, cleaning professionals outsource cleaning to sub-contractors. There is nothing wrong with this as long as it is done legally and equitably.  But all too often it is not.  All workers, whether sub-contractors or employees, must be paid fairly, equitably, with benefits, and dignity. Your cleaning staff is your business. Invariably, the better they are treated, the more loyal they will be to your company and the better they will perform.


Sustainability in cleaning means making money. A business is in business to make money, and one of the many outcomes of sustainability is that the business operates not only more efficiently, as discussed earlier, but it helps reduce overall operating costs.  It also involves charging clients fairly for your services; being transparent in business operations, and ensuring all business practices comply with all government regulations.

Proving Sustainability

We’ve covered a lot of territory here.  However, there is something else we must add. The time is coming when cleaning contractors will need to prove they are operating their business more sustainably to be awarded cleaning contracts.  We see this happening today all over the world, including Ireland. This means sustainability is no longer something cleaning contractors and carpet cleaning technicians may want to do — it is becoming something they must do.

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.


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