Transferring to Green and Sustainable Cleaning

PR-AshkinGroup-StephenAshkin_360x235About a year ago, a study was undertaken by Canada’s University of Guelph, a public research university in Ontario.  For any cleaning contractors on the fence as to whether they should provide Green cleaning programs for their customers – or take this a step further, and commit to adopting sustainability strategies in their own businesses – the study addresses any doubts or questions they may have in dollar-and-cents terms.
This study collected data from 2004 to 2013 and involved 148 office buildings in Canada and 143 office buildings in the United States.  Altogether, this totaled more than 58 million square feet of office space. Their research found that:

• When compared to traditional (non-green/not sustainable) buildings, rents in Green and more sustainable buildings were 3.7 percent higher.
• Occupancy rates were 18.7 percent higher in Canada; 9.5 percent higher in the U.S.
• Tenant renewal rates were 5.6 percent higher in both countries.
• In Canada, tenant satisfaction was reported to be seven percent higher.
• In the U.S., energy consumption per square foot was 14 percent lower.*

To the ears of a building owner or manager, each one of these findings rings “cha-ching” over and over again.  Higher rents; higher occupancy rates; longer term clients; and greater tenant satisfaction are the financial goals of all building owners/managers.

But if you are a cleaning contractor, here’s what you need to know about this study: cleaning contractors must adopt Green and sustainability initiatives, products, and procedures not only to help ensure they also will hear the cash register ring, but very likely, to guarantee their survival in the professional cleaning industry of the future.

What Makes a Green Cleaning Contractor?
Fortunately, it’s really not that hard today to be a Green Cleaning contractor.  It all comes down to four things: selection of cleaning products (specifically chemicals), procedures, equipment, and plastic liners.  As both the leading advocate and longest term veteran of Green Cleaning, I know all too well how difficult it was at one time to determine if a cleaning solution was indeed “Green.”

However, the problem of identifying Green products is now eliminated. While manufacturers can provide self-certification, cleaning products that have been independently tested and evaluated to meet specific environmental standards and criteria, that have been  proven effective, and also have a reduced impact on the user and the environment, are now also independently certified.  These items will bear a “seal” of certification from U.S. EPA’s Safer Choice program (formerly Design for the Environment), GreenSeal®, UL Environment, or some other respected and reputable organization.

Similarly, equipment such as vacuum cleaners and carpet extractors that have earned the Seal of Approval from the Cleaning and Rug Institute have proven they meet specific criteria ensuring they perform well with minimal impact on the environment.  Also, cleaning systems such as some spray-and-vac machines, floor machines, microfiber products, automatic dilution systems and more have been developed specifically to be used in Green Cleaning initiatives.
Environmentally preferable cleaning products and equipment are essential to a Green Cleaning program, but the proper use of these products and the incorporation of Green Cleaning “best practices” are also essential.  ISSA, through its CIMS-GB (Green Building) program, Green Seal’s Service Standard (GS-42) and similar programs have developed criteria to help contractors “clean Green.”  Among them are the following:

• Have a written Green Cleaning program in place, including how it will be implemented in a facility.
• Provide cleaning workers with proper training on how to use Green Cleaning products and equipment.
• Communicate with cleaning workers and building users as to why a Green Cleaning program is being implemented and its benefits.
• Address the special needs of a facility; for instance, facilities that serve vulnerable populations, such as young children or the elderly, may need specialized Green cleaning plans.
• Validate cleaning results using tools such as ATP monitoring systems to help ensure that soils and other indoor pollutants have been removed.

Sustainability and Cleaning Contractors
First, let’s define the concept of sustainability because it has evolved over the years. The old definition of sustainability involves the use of natural resources in such a way that they will still be available for future generations. However, sustainability now refers to:

People: Ensuring fair treatment of workers along with earnings and benefits that help ensure they lead a healthy, dignified, and valuable life

Profit:  Provide services at costs that are fair, ensure the profitability and growth of the company, without negatively impacting workers or the local community

Planet: The use of cleaning chemicals, products, and equipment, that have minimal impact on the environment as well as natural resources

If we take a closer look at these three components of sustainability, what we realize is that they mean that cleaning contractors must create a “culture of sustainability” within their organizations. In a sense, this is a value proposition indicating what the company is all about and it indicates that those working for the firm put sustainability first, are continuously looking for ways to reduce consumption and use natural resources such as fuel and water more responsibly and efficiently. A culture of sustainability also includes:

• Having a company vision and plan, preferably in writing, regarding sustainability–including why it is being implemented, why it is important, and what employees need to do to help support it.
• Inspiring all workers to make sustainability a key concern both at work and at home.
• Rewarding accomplishments that promote and improve a cleaning company’s sustainable performance.
• Having a way to measure and monitor sustainability improvements within the company and for its clients; this usually requires the use of web-based sustainability tools or dashboard systems

The Cha-ching Factor for Cleaning Contractors
We have already discussed the benefits building owners/managers are realizing by incorporating Green and sustainability initiatives within their facilities.  We have also referenced how these same building owners and managers will likely select cleaning contractors that support these programs in their facilities and within their own businesses.

However, what we have not mentioned is the positive impact sustainability can have on a contractor’s profits and bottom line.  Being a “Green” cleaning contractor that also promotes sustainability within their own organization and for its clients can be used as a marketing tool.  This is business; contractors should use it to their advantage.

Additionally Green and sustainable cleaning contractors use cleaning products that are safer, which can help reduce workers’ compensation claims.  Many Green Cleaning products are designed to last longer, be higher performing, and ultimately improve customer satisfaction, all of which result in money in the bank.

And by treating workers more fairly, turnover rates are reduced and workers become much more focused on your company and customer satisfaction.  Once again, this translates into profits as well as cost savings, a perfect combination for cleaning contractors as well as any business.

Stephen P. Ashkin is president of The Ashkin Group, a consulting firm specializing in Greening the cleaning industry and promoting sustainability. He is also CEO of Sustainability Dashboard Tools, which helps facilities monitor and measure their use of natural resources.  Known as the “father of Green Cleaning” he is also the professional cleaning industries leading advocate promoting sustainability.  He may be reached at
Sidebar: What is Green Cleaning?
The federal government first defined Green Cleaning and “environmentally preferred purchasing” as “the use of products and services that have a lesser or reduced effect on human health and the environment when compared with competing products and services that serve the same purpose.” Implementation Instructions for Executive Order 13693 authorized in 2015.
Sidebar: What is a Sustainable Green Cleaning Program?

A Sustainable Green Cleaning program includes four important facets.  It cleans effectively with a specific focus on protecting occupant health, uses cleaning products and equipment specifically designed to reduce impacts on health and the environment as compared to traditional materials, incorporates processes that reduce the use of natural resources such as energy and water, and addresses the needs of cleaning personnel relative to pay and other social equity issues.