Sustainability: The Next Turning Point in Professional Cleaning

By Ron Segura | May 3, 2016

Earth Day 2016 (April 22) represents a possible turning point for many in the professional cleaning industry. For most custodial workers, the use of green or environmentally preferable cleaning products is now a daily fact of life. The turning point for green cleaning occurred a good decade ago, in the mid- to-late 2000s.

So if green cleaning has become old hat, what new turning point am I referencing? The professional cleaning industry is building on green cleaning and becoming much more sustainable. Contract cleaners and in-house service providers are embracing a wide range of strategies to reduce energy, fuel, and water consumption along with waste. In the process, they are also making cleaning and facility operations much more cost-effective and efficient.

Some of the change is fueled by customer demand, just as green cleaning was a decade ago. But much of it is because contract cleaners are realizing that being more sustainable has a number of cost-saving benefits for both them and their clients. For contract cleaners specifically, sustainability can provide new marketing opportunities and the ability to win larger and more profitable contracts.

We see this change to sustainability becoming evident in a number of ways, including:

Equipment selection. When selecting traditional cleaning equipment, many cleaning contractors are no longer just focused on cost or how much the machine or product can improve worker productivity. They also want to know if the product works effectively using less water, chemicals, and energy.

Technological innovations. Taking equipment a step further, manufacturers are introducing new types of cleaning equipment that are designed to use less energy, water, and cleaning solution than traditional cleaning options. Some of these are proving to be very effective in both reducing costs and improving worker productivity.

Spot buying. Many cleaning professionals make product purchases as they need them, often in an emergency, when they run out of a product. Often referred to as “spot buying,” this is not a cost-effective approach to purchasing nor does it promote sustainability. As an example, often spot buying involves the purchase of one, two, or three gallons of a product.  Rarely will a distributor offer a cost discount on such a small purchase. In addition, those two or three gallons all have to be packaged and delivered, using packaging materials and fuel, which releases greenhouse gases. Purchasing more concentrated products in larger containers tends not only to be more sustainable, but also more economical.

Workflow. Some cleaning processes and procedures can also lead to sustainable results. Workflow strategies can be designed so that certain areas of a facility are cleaned first, allowing lights and power to be turned off in those areas when they’re not in use. Hard surface and carpet floor care programs can be designed so that areas are cleaned based more on need and use and less on set schedules, thus reducing energy and water demands.

Liners. Some cleaning workers are now replacing traditional and even green liners with corn-based trash liners. These products are much more biodegradable and are manufactured using agricultural by-products.

Biobased cleaning solutions. Cleaning workers should become familiar with products that have been certified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) BioPreferred program. Biobased cleaning solutions are made from agricultural by-products just like the liners mentioned previously. These products must meet specific standards and are independently tested. Not only do biobased solutions promote sustainability, but according to the USDA, they have also helped create more than 300,000 jobs.

Day cleaning. While day cleaning has its pros and cons, it cannot be denied that day cleaning can help a facility reduce its energy consumption. In many cases, day cleaning allows the entire facility to shut down at a certain hour and over the weekend. According to the New Jersey Green Building Manual, prepared in conjunction with Rutgers University, day cleaning programs have reduced energy consumption by about 6 to 10 percent

Team cleaning. As with day cleaning, team cleaning programs have also had their ebbs and flows in the professional cleaning industry. However, cleaning in teams can help promote sustainability.  When cleaning workers perform the same tasks over and over again, they tend to become more skilled and proficient, making cleaning faster and allowing the facility to be shut down for the day sooner.  Further, workflow is concentrated on certain areas at specific times, allowing lights to be turned off in areas not being cleaned.

CIMS. ISSA’s Cleaning Industry Management Standard (CIMS) and CIMS-GB (Green Building) programs have helped contract cleaners and facility service providers become more sustainable by emphasizing best practices and work efficiencies. The CIMS program has helped both cleaning workers and facility managers reduce waste, lower energy consumption, and conserve water.

When the professional cleaning industry turned to green cleaning strategies a decade or more ago, they provided many benefits for the industry overall. Our industry was viewed as a leader in embracing environmentally preferable products and programs. Now we have a chance to do it again with sustainability, showing our customers and other industries how we can help protect natural resources for today and for the future.

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