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Seven Steps to Drive Sustainability

By Stephen P. Ashkin | May 8, 2017 << Back to Articles

The professional cleaning industry has done a great job with green cleaning.  Today over 30 percent of all cleaning products in the professional space are considered green, whereas green products account for only 3 percent in the consumer space.  This is a testament to the efforts of the professional cleaning industry and the facilities managers they serve who care deeply about protecting occupant health, protecting the building itself, reducing environmental impacts, and managing what seems to be an ever declining budget for cleaning and maintenance.

Due to the success of the professional cleaning industry, today it is easy for facilities managers to ask their local distributors for green cleaning products since they all stock them, and unlike just a few years ago the products perform well and are cost competitive compared with their tradition counterparts.

So whether a facility contracts with a janitorial service which provides all related cleaning products, or cleans with an in-house staff purchasing all products itself, or a combination where the cleaning is done by a cleaning service contractor but the facility still purchases some of the products such as hand soaps, paper products and plastic liners, there are easy and affordable strategies to further green your cleaning program and encourage the cleaning industry in a more sustainable (and cost effective) direction.

The following are 7 simple things you can ask to identify the true leaders in the cleaning industry.

Are they participating in ISSA’s Distributor Efficiency, Analytics & Learning (DEAL) Program?
ISSA is the leading trade association in the commercial cleaning industry.  They have launched a comprehensive program to help their distribution members become more sustainable.  www.ISSA.com/DEAL

DEAL helps distributors address issues of efficiency, cost controls and environmental reductions associated with the energy used for lighting, heating and cooling their warehouses; fuels for their delivery vehicles which account for 2 to 3 times the cost and environmental impacts compared to other uses of energy; waste and recycling; and other operational issues.

Simply by asking your distributors about DEAL will send a clear message that these issues are important to you.  Plus, as the product distributors reduce their spend on energy, water, transportation, waste/recycling, etc., they will be more cost effective suppliers to your building over the long term.

Is their building certified?
Many product distributors and cleaning product manufacturers have gotten their buildings certified.  Today there are a number of whole building certification systems including LEED, BREEAM, Well, BIT and others; as well as category specific programs such as U.S. EPA’s ENERGY STAR and SmartWay Transport Programs.  Plus those from organizations like BOMA (TOBY Award), Green Seal and others.

So when all things are equal relative to products and cost, ask the distributors if they participate in any of these programs as it is a clear indication that they are trying to ‘walk to talk’.

How are they tracking the efficiency of their delivery vehicles?
As mentioned above, for a distribution company, the spend on fuel for their delivery vehicles is 2 to 3 times higher compared to their spend on energy.  This is a major difference compared to a commercial office building which typically does not track transportation issues, but focuses on their big spend – energy.

Some distributors do a much better job managing these costs than others.  In addition to routing software, increasing the size of deliveries, reducing the frequency of deliveries, etc., there are other things that affect the cost of vehicle operations and environmental impacts.  These include driver training, idling, vehicle maintenance, choice of vehicles, use of alternative fuels and a myriad of other issues.

With such a big expense, buying from a distributor which has a comprehensive program to address their delivery costs can have a direct impact on the cost of the products they sell.  So ask them what they are doing to address this issue.

How are they tracking their energy consumption?
These days, tracking energy is easy.  While a warehouse may use much less energy per square foot compared to an office building, it nevertheless is still important.  Plus, with programs like ENERGY STAR, the cost to participate is low and easy to do.

So ask the distributor what they are doing to better manage their energy consumption.  Just asking sends a clear message that this issue is important.  And whether or not their consumption of energy is significant, wasting money affects the price of the products they sell.

How are they tracking their water consumption?
As with energy above, tracking water is easy.  While a warehouse may use very little water as many have no landscaping, minimal workers in the building and no food service or other activities which can consume large amounts of water.  But others wash vehicles on-site and conduct other activities which can be quite wasteful.

So ask the distributor what they are doing to better manage their water consumption.  As with energy, simply asking sends a clear message that this issue is important.  And whether or not their consumption of water is significant, wasting money affects the price of the products you buy.

What percentage of the cleaning products they sell are green certified?
Some distributors work hard to learn about green cleaning and help their customers.  While others are order takers and will sell anything and everything.  Since all sales people have a good story to tell, simply understanding what they sell will help you assess how much they are really committed to green cleaning.

Since all products, both green and traditional, perform and are price competitive, it is recommended that you purchase from a distributor who demonstrates their commitment to green cleaning and reward them for their effort.

How are they tracking social equity?
While this is clearly the most challenging question to ask, it may in fact be the most important especially considering personnel costs.  Some of the things a distributor can track include wages, training, volunteerism, philanthropy, and other things that make the company a good corporate/community citizen and supplier.

While it may be difficult to measure one company being better than another; but the reality is that while most companies are doing some things, most don’t track, manage nor report on it.  So asking the question will encourage them to do so.

In the end, facilities managers should keep in mind that the cleaning industry is here to serve you.  While product cost and performance may be your highest priority, due to the competitive nature of the cleaning industry, your questions will stimulate their efforts and help drive them to become more sustainable enterprises which is better for you, them and our collective future.


Stephen P. Ashkin is president of The Ashkin Group, a consulting firm working to “green” the cleaning industry, executive director of the Green Cleaning Network, a nonprofit organization working to accelerate the adoption of green cleaning by building owners and managers, and cofounder of Green Cleaning University. He can be reached at 812-332-7950.

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