Climate Change and the Cleaning Industry
This past Halloween, hospital Mother Nature played a big trick on all of us. Hurricane Sandy pounded the East
Coast killing 70+ people and causing billions of dollars worth of property damage. And this once in a
hundred years storm was the second such storm in just the past year (Hurricane Irene hit the East Coast
in August 2011).
Climate change skeptics and deniers argue that mankind’s actions have nothing to do with climate
change, look hurricanes like Sandy and Irene, or other extreme weather events such as droughts in the
Midwest and Southwest or the colder than normal winters that plagued Europe the past years. But they
are increasingly in the minority.
Today 98 percent of climatologists from around the world believe that the Earth’s climate system is
unequivocally warming, and it is more than 90 percent certain that humans are causing it through
activities that increase concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, such as the burning of
fossil fuels used to power our buildings, vehicles and processes.
And in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, even politicians on both sides of the aisle have begun speaking out
about climate change. Recently New York City’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg stated:
“Our climate is changing. And while the increase in extreme weather we have experienced in New York
City and around the world may or may not be the result of it, the risk that it might be — given this week’s
devastation — should compel all elected leaders to take immediate action.”
The following are some actions that leaders in the cleaning industry can take.
Get Educated: You can find many resources on the subject and follow Mayor Bloomberg’s
recommendation to think from the perspective of “risk” to your business and that of your customers.
And keep in mind that each section of the country will deal with these issues differently. For example,
those near the coasts, rivers and lakes should plan for flooding; other parts of the country should learn
about the affects of droughts including water shortages and the potential for forest and brush fires; and
yet others should learn about the potential for power outages from tornados and heavy snow storms —
all of which can affect your customers and your business.
Preparedness: Extreme weather events are expected to become more common and more intense.
Prepare your own emergency response plan. Prioritize your customers considering among other things
the value of your customer (yes, we run businesses so we need to think about our customers from an
income perspective) as well as from the perspective of the vulnerability of the occupants in the buildings
you clean. Two such examples include customers dealing with people with health issues such as acute
and long term health care facilities, as well as day care and schools which should also be high priorities.
Also include plans for when storms, tornados, fires and other weather related events are approaching.
For example in a flood zone you may want to move equipment out of a basement into floors higher in
the facility to reduce the risk of water damage.
And don’t forget that the real issue you may deal with will be your people and their inability to get to
work sites and back to their homes. So have plans in place for worker and supervisor shortages, and
Reduce Process Electricity Use: We should also do our part toward reducing the causes of climate
change including how our cleaning processes consume electricity as its production is powered by the
burning of carbon emitting fossil fuels in many parts of the country. This can include simply changing
to cleaning with cold water and using more modern chemistries and other technologies that no longer
require heat to be effective.
Also when purchasing new electrical powered equipment, ask the equipment manufacturer about
motor efficiency, as well as electricity consumption during use and recharging of battery powered
equipment. These small pieces of equipment add-up, and customers will appreciate that you are
thinking about these things as you are consuming their electricity — at their expense.
Reduce Electricity Use In Your Facility: While you may only rent a small amount of space in a building
and may have your electricity use included in the lease, but what you do matters and sends a clear
message to both your employees and customers. So think about what you can do to reduce electricity
consumption such as installing more efficient lighting and making sure that lights, computers, monitors,
printers, coffee pots, soda machines and other electrical devices are turned off when not in use,
especially over nights and weekends.
Improve Transportation: There are plenty of lessons you can learn from delivery companies such as
UPS and retailers like Walmart when it comes to using transportation more efficiently. Make sure all
of your vehicles are well maintained such as properly inflating tires and make customer routes more
efficient thereby reducing the mileage and vehicle fuel consumption. And when purchasing or leasing
new vehicles, look for those with high mileage ratings.
Also, consider what you can do to help your workers as a significant portion of your carbon footprint
results from their transportation. So consider helping them by coordinating carpooling and ride-sharing,
as well as encouraging public transportation when practical. While these efforts will reduce
environmental impacts, they also help lower paid employees who pay a larger portion of their income
getting to and from the work site.
Regrettably I believe that climate change is real and extreme weather events will become more intense
and common. As an industry we should do our part to mitigate the risks and it is not only the “right
things to do,” but it is good business as well.
By Stephen P. Ashkin, The Ashkin Group