Stephen Ashkin Discusses Green Cleaning in China

The following is part of an interview in ChinaClean 2009 when Green Cleaning was just beginning to emerge in China

Question: When did you first get involved with Green Cleaning?

Ashkin: I have been advocating the use of Green Cleaning products, which I define as those products that have a reduced impact on health and the environment, for nearly 20 years. When I started, there were few Green products made specifically for the professional cleaning industry. Many people called “Green” a fad, and for several years I gave presentations at tradeshows and seminars with only a few people in attendance. There just was not much interest. However, I persisted, and as we see today—especially in North America, Europe, and now moving into Asia—the interest in Green issues, including Green Cleaning, is everywhere.

What and when was the “tipping point”?

It is almost impossible to determine what one thing caused the excitement about Green Cleaning and environmental issues in general. Most likely it was the fact that over the past several years, we have become more aware of what we are doing to our environment, and governments, private industry, and people around the world have begun insisting we be more environmentally responsible.

As to Green Cleaning specifically, greater interest in environmentally preferable products evolved as the products became both more effective at cleaning and cost effective. When users realized these products perform as well as if not better than conventional products—and the costs were comparable—there simply was no reason not to use them. Further, the independent certification programs that have evolved over the past few years have helped clarify what is and is not Green and have set standards that have helped the consumer tremendously.


You often stress the word “effective” when discussing Green Cleaning products. Is there a reason for this?

Yes. We cannot rewrite history. Many of the original Green Cleaning products introduced a decade or more ago simply did not perform well. But those days are over. It is part of my job to know what types of cleaning products—Green or not—are available to the industry. Often now, when I see a new Green product tested, I am impressed with how well it performs. We have to keep stressing that Green products are effective, they perform well, they protect health, and at the same time, they have a reduced impact on the environment.


I would also like to honor and acknowledge all the time, effort, energy, and money that jansan manufacturers around the world have put into developing Green Cleaning products. We would not be where we are today, nor would we have high-performing, effective Green Cleaning products, if it was not for their commitment to this concept.


How do you think the use of Green Cleaning products will impact the cleaning industry in China?

Let me answer that by describing what has been evolving in North America and other parts of the world where Green Cleaning has established a foothold. We have seen the industry become more respected, and those in the industry place higher value on what they are doing. The reasons for this is are clear: not only has effective Green Cleaning helped us realize we must be more respectful to our environment, but our role in protecting health, improving worker productivity, enhancing student performance, and reducing absenteeism is now well established. About a year ago, some experts even suggested that the professional cleaning industry should come under the umbrella of the healthcare industry because we do so much to keep people healthy.


Earlier you mentioned cost issues. Do all Green products now cost the same as conventional products?

No, and I do not want to mislead anyone. Some Green products do cost more than conventional products. However, we must analyze these cost factors carefully because often the user is purchasing a higher-quality, healthier product that proves to be a cost savings overall. For instance, high-filtration vacuum cleaners that capture and trap contaminants so that they do not become airborne are often installed on higher-end vacuum cleaners. However, these machines are often better quality, last longer, and do not have the service needs of less expensive vacuum cleaners with relatively poor filtration systems. When you calculate the added longevity of the machine, fewer service bills, and less downtime, it is clear the cost of ownership of some high-filtration vacuum cleaners is actually less than that of inexpensive vacuum cleaners.


As to Green Cleaning chemicals, many are comparably priced. What many contractors and facility managers do as they evolve into Green Cleaning is select cost-compatible Green equivalents they use most frequently, such as all-purpose cleaners and window cleaners. This starts them on their “Green journey,” and then they can begin exploring and cost comparing Green products for other tasks.


What advantages are there for cleaning companies in China to begin Green Cleaning?

Again, what has happened in North America can serve as an outline of what is likely to happen in China. Historically, cleaning in the United States has been viewed as a “commodity,” which means, at least in the minds of facility managers, that most cleaning companies are alike with price the only differentiator. When U.S. cleaning contractors began offering Green Cleaning, it meant that health, protection of the environment, and improvement of worker productivity and student performance became differentiators. For facility managers, this meant there was an entirely new business model to consider. They could do things the old way—hope for the best at the lowest price—or hire a contractor that could improve the performance of their facility.


We should also mention that Green Cleaning products generally are safer for cleaning workers. This often means there are fewer accidents and injuries, less worker turnover, and reduced absenteeism, which are all a savings for the cleaning contractor.