Creating a Culture of Sustainability with the Four E’s

“Drive change from the bottom up…this is one of the most successful ways
to develop a culture of sustainability.”

culture of sustainablityAccording to Stephen Ashkin, CEO of Sustainability Dashboard Tools, a web-based system that helps facilities measure and monitor their consumption and use of natural resources,

According to Ashkin, a culture of sustainability exists “when all staff members support a healthy environment, strive to improve the lives of workers in their organization as well as people in their local community, while continuing to create a business that is financially successfully over the long term.”

To make this a reality, he says businesses must practice the “four Es.” These include the following:


Business owners must educate staff as to the value of sustainability for the organization and employees as well as the local community. The goal here is to make this a shared value, supported by all those in the organization.


Once the value of sustainability is clearly defined and understood, owners must make sustainability visible. Business owners and managers must agree on sustainability goals and targets and find ways to measure and monitor those goals. “Measuring and monitoring make the entire process ‘real’ for staff members,” says Ashkin.


Encourage, on an ongoing basis, everyone in the organization to get involved with the sustainability initiatives. “Continue to have meetings and form a ‘sustainability team’ to lead, direct, and encourage everyone to get on board with the organization’s sustainability initiatives,” says Ashkin. “Sustainability goals are easier to achieve when everyone is involved at all levels of an organization.”


Allow small groups of motivated people to experiment with different ways to promote sustainability. Examples of this could be a ride-sharing program, composting in a cafeteria, or developing a system to ensure office electrical devices are turned off after business hours and on weekends. “Try to drive change from the bottom up,” Ashkin advises. “This is one of the most successful ways to develop a culture of sustainability.”

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Questions about Sustainability and Green Cleaning in Healthcare Facilities

green cleaning and sustainable green cleaningThe following are questions and answers from Stephen Ashkin for Healthcare Facility News

1. What green and sustainability trends do see happening in healthcare today?

• Healthcare administrators are looking for more green and sustainability information that is both comprehensive and easy to interpret.
• Administrators want more information regarding their distributors and all vendors as to their environmental performance such as fleet management, fuel savings, and energy and water management in their facilities in order to develop a “Sustainability Scorecard.”
• More administrators only want green-certified cleaning products used in their facilities; along with this, they are developing their own in-house sustainability programs.
• Facility care administrators want changes that reduce costs along the entire supply chain process, including reduced product costs, electronic purchasing (which saves time and contributes to automating the ordering process), delivery improvements, etc.
• All administrators want greater transparency. They want to know, for instance, what chemical ingredients are actually in the cleaning products they select, if there are greener or healthier alternatives to the products they are using, if those products perform more effectively (thereby lowering labor costs), etc.

2. What environmental services trends will supply chain professionals need to be aware of in the future—and why?

Large facilities, such as hospitals and major medical centers, are likely to make increasing use of analytical tools or supply chain management systems that both keep tabs on overall purchasing and make it easier to select greener and more environmentally preferable products. A recent survey of 300 directors and managers involved in purchasing for their organizations (conducted and reported by Bloomberg BusinessWeek Research Services earlier this year)  found that the need for information gathering systems is expected to jump considerably and to continue to grow in future years.

3. What are some of the common errors that healthcare administrators make when it comes to green cleaning products?

• Believing their custodial staff does not need training regarding green cleaning products and green cleaning procedures.
• Understanding the need to incorporate sustainability into cleaning and all of their facility’s operations.  Green cleaning and sustainability now go hand-in-hand
• There still exists a belief that green cleaning products cost more and/or do not perform as well as traditional cleaning products. Those are now myths from a bygone era.

4. What steps can administrators make to become more sustainable?

• Implement a color-coding system for all power-using devices in a facility such as copiers, computers, monitors, etc. The codes can be used to identify systems that can be turned off completely after hours or on weekends, reducing energy consumption.
• Provide employees with training regarding how to reduce consumption in a variety of areas, including energy, water, and product usage, etc. Doing so helps create a “culture of sustainability,” which means taking steps to reduce consumption is now a key part of an organizations operation.
• Be aware that sustainability has no endpoint—it is a journey. Always be open to new ways of doing things that may prove to be more sustainable and/or economical.
• Realize that effective waste management systems can be a major cost saver.

5. How can health-care facilities include sustainability goals in their environmental services processes and procedures?

Practice “the four E’s”

Engage. Make sustainability visible. Employees must discuss goals, targets, etc. Make it real to all staff members.

Educate. Once staff is engaged, educate them about how their work impacts the health of the facility, patients, and the environment.

Empower. Encourage workers to get involved and help solve problems. Sustainability goals are easier to achieve when staff members are involved at all levels of an organization.

Experiment: Allow small groups of motivated people to experiment with different ways to be greener and more sustainable…such as a ride sharing program, composting in a cafeteria, etc.;  drive change from the bottom up to benefit the entire organization.


Stephen P. Ashkin is president of The Ashkin Group, a consulting firm specializing in Greening the cleaning industry, and CEO of Sustainability Dashboard Tools, which offers a cloud-based dashboard that allows organizations to measure, report and improve their sustainability efforts. He is also coauthor of both The Business of Green Cleaning and Green Cleaning for Dummies

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Green Cleaning Joins Hands with Sustainability

green cleaning and sustainable green cleaningThere is considerable confusion among cleaning professionals as to what green cleaning, “sustainable” green cleaning, and sustainability are all about.

So let’s start out with a situation that might help us address at least two of these quandaries:

You are a contract cleaning company and have been invited to submit a cleaning proposal for a very large organization.  Based on their Request for Proposal (RFP), which is sometimes called a “tender,” they request the following as far as carpet cleaning:

The contract cleaner will clean carpet throughout the building three times per year using a hot water carpet extractor with the following exceptions:

• Executive offices are to be cleaned four times per year using a hot water extractor

• Executive conference and meeting rooms are to be cleaned four times per year, using a hot water extractor

• Warehouse offices are to be cleaned two times per year using a cold water extractor

Now let’s examine what this means as to green cleaning as well as sustainable green cleaning.  But first, we must realize many organizations tend to recycle their RFPs.  By this I mean they take an RFP that may have been prepared as much as ten years ago and just put the current date on it.  A lot has changed in cleaning in the past decade and ten years ago, green and sustainable cleaning issues were just starting to become a consideration.

With that in mind, let’s dissect this RFP, realizing our discussion applies to most facilities.

• First, does all the carpet throughout the building need to be cleaned three times per year?   A greener and more sustainable approach would be that carpet on the first floor be cleaned three times per year, but carpet above the first floor be cleaned twice per year or as needed. Most carpet soiling in a facility occurs on the first floor and by keeping carpet on the first floor clean, dirt and soil are less likely to be tracked to higher floors with foot traffic.

• As to cleaning carpet in the executive offices and meeting rooms four times annually, the reality is that these areas likely have the cleanest carpet in the entire building.  They are the least populated areas but are typically given special treatment just because they are used by top executives.  Instead of carpet being cleaned four times per year, twice per year in most cases will be plenty.

• Why are warehouse offices to be cleaned only twice per year, and using a cold water extractor?  Instead of minimizing the importantance of these areas, they are likely the most soiled carpets in the building.  By cleaning carpet in warehouse and industrial offices more frequently, there is less chance that soiling from these areas will be walked in to other areas of the building.  Additionally, the use of a cold water carpet extractor here also suggests that the cleaning needs of these areas have been marginalized.  But more about that next.

• The call for hot water extractors is an indication that this may be a “recycled” RFP.  About ten years ago, it was believed that carpet was more thoroughly cleaned using hot water.  However, since then, a number of manufacturers are now making detergents and cleaning solutions that work as well, if not better, using cold water.

So What Have We Learned?

In a nutshell, this scenario tells us the following: Carpet should be cleaned based more on when cleaning is needed than on the calendar. Invariably, set schedules for cleaning services such as carpet cleaning or floorcare are not based on need.

A Greener and more sustainable practice is to clean carpet more frequently in warehouse areas and the first floor of the building.  Keeping carpet cleaner in these areas means that not only is there less likelihood that dust and soils will be tracked into other areas of the facility, but also it often helps reduce cleaning’s impact on the environment overall because fewer cleanings, and less cleaning solution, will be needed.

As to the use of hot water extractors, very simply, they are no longer necessary. I am well aware there is considerable controversy with this stance, but carpet cleaning solutions and chemicals have been developed in the past ten years that work very effectively using cold water.  This reduces the energy needs of the facility.

Taking these two steps – cleaning carpets as needed not on a schedule and using cold water extractors – helps promote sustainability and at the same time potentially lowers your costs to service the facility, a savings that can make your bid more competitive.

Further, our recycled RFP did not even mention the use of Green cleaning solutions.  The use of environmentally preferable cleaning solutions is a must and will take our green and sustainable strategy a step further, reducing cleanings impact on the environment and lowering this facility’s overall environmental footprint.

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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