Sustainability and the Restoration Professional

VisibleSatellite_20121029_morningWhile it is slowly fading into people’s memories, Hurricane Sandy was by all considerations a game changer. It convinced many people that climate change is real, even if they squabble over whether it is due to human activity—the burning of fossil fuels, contributing to greenhouse gases—or due to more natural phenomena.

Still others note that for whatever reason, these horrendous storms appear to be happening much more frequently. This was best expressed by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, whose state was directly hit by Hurricane Sandy, when he said, “these [once every] 100-year storms are now occurring about every two years”

However, no one can doubt that the damage that these storms have caused in terms of costs has increased significantly in recent years. The following are the six most costly hurricanes to hit the United States. Of note, all except one occurred in the past ten years:

• Hurricane Katrina, 2005, $46,600 billion
• Hurricane Sandy, 2012, will likely cost more than $42 billion
• Hurricane Andrew, 1992, $23 billion
• Hurricane Ike, 2008, $13 billion
• Hurricane Wilma, 2005, $12 billion
• Hurricane Charley, 2004, $9 billion*

Hurricanes and the changing climate we are now experiencing are going to impact all aspects of the professional cleaning, carpet cleaning, and restoration industries. After all, building and home owners are going to turn to cleaning, carpet, and restoration professionals to get their homes and facilities livable and workable.

To best understand how they can protect their own businesses and serve others, carpet and restoration professionals should do the following:

Get educated. Nearly all climatologists around the world believe that global warming is real, and most believe it is due to human activity. However, many people remain skeptical. But does this mean we should simply ignore the hurricanes, drought conditions, and other climate irregularities that have impacted the United States in recent years? The only way to come to terms with the situation and understand what appears to be occurring is to get educated, turning to reliable and credible sources.

Know the community’s risks. Climate changes are not affecting all areas in the same way. While the East Coast was dealing with hurricanes, last summer large portions of Texas were essentially on fire due to dry drought conditions; in the past couple of years, while some cities such as Chicago have experienced some of the mildest winters on record, other areas have been colder, rainier, dryer, or warmer than usual. Knowing the potential risks in your community will help you prepare for the types of climate changes you may face.

Develop an emergency response plan. More than a decade ago, there were few areas of the country that had hurricane preparedness and emergency plans in place. Now many cities—even some that have never experienced a hurricane—have emergency plans in place. So should you. What would you do if a hurricane hit your community? Where would you take your family? What steps could you take to protect your business equipment, trucks, and other work items? How would you be able to help your customers? It is advisable to answer these questions now and have some sort of plan in place. Storms can cause considerable havoc. A planned response can help you deal with the situation in a more rational way.

Become a Green and sustainability expert. Along with getting better educated about climate change, carpet cleaning and restoration professionals should become more familiar with how they can help their customers become Greener and more sustainable. This includes ways to reduce power and fuel consumption, which can help reduce greenhouse gases, as well as the use of water and other consumables. In the professional cleaning industry, we are already starting to see more building owners and managers turning to their custodial staff to help them move in this more environmentally focused direction.

Greening Your Own Business Operations

Carpet cleaning and restoration professionals should also know there is a great deal they can do to operate their businesses in a Greener and more sustainable manner. And fortunately, it has gotten much easier to do this, especially with advances in cleaning chemicals and the equipment and vehicles used by industry professionals. Further, in many cases, when businesses operate in a more environmentally responsible manner, they also experience a cost savings, which is invariably welcome.
Among the ways to operate your business in a Greener and more sustainable manner are the following:

Buy in bulk. Most chemicals come in one-gallon sizes with three to six gallons in a case. Spotters and many other chemicals are often sold in smaller 16- and 32-ounce containers and are sold individually or by the case. This calls for a lot of packaging, a lot of fuel needed and greenhouse gases released to deliver these cases of goods, and a lot of waste. Often these products are not delivered in recycled or recyclable containers. Purchasing chemicals in five-gallon or other bulk containers where possible can help reduce the use of nonrenewable energy sources and lessen the environmental impacts of these products.

Select Green-certified chemicals. In recent years, there have been significant advances in developing Green chemical equivalents for a variety of carpet and restoration needs. These products are often now more cost effective than and perform as well as, if not better than, the conventional chemicals they are designed to replace.

Become your customers’ adviser. Often after a natural disaster, the customer has an initial desire to salvage what has been damaged. The goal, of course, is to minimize the financial implications of the disaster. In many cases this is possible, but in still many others, the right course of action is to advise the client to replace the damaged items and limit restoration efforts. This can save on chemical use, fuel use, packaging materials, etc., and ultimately be a cost savings for the customer.

Use low-moisture equipment. Low-moisture extractors have contributed significantly to making the carpet cleaning industry Greener and more sustainable. The primary goal of a low-moisture system is to help carpets dry quicker—in two hours or less, depending on a number of factors. This helps prevent the possible growth of mold or mildew, a big concern after an emergency.  In addition, these systems often use less water, which can translate into less chemical used in the cleaning process. Whenever less chemical is used in cleaning, it reduces cleaning’s impact on the environment.

Select newer equipment and keep it well maintained. Until recently, a multifloor condominium building in Chicago was using an extractor purchased in the early 1990s to clean common area carpets. The machine was loud, used excessive amounts of water and energy, produced only about 100 psi, performed relatively poorly, and due to its age was getting costly to service and repair. Carpet and restoration equipment available today is much more advanced, far more efficient, and more environmentally responsible. Consider selecting newer equipment every few years, and keep it well maintained so that it operates at its best.

Taking Things a Step Further

Traditionally, sustainability has referred to the use of natural resources in such a way that they meet our own needs as well as the needs of future generations. However, in recent years, sustainability has taken on much broader implications, often referred to as the “triple bottom line,” and is impacting all kinds of businesses, large and small. It is also something carpet and restoration professionals implement in their own companies.

The triple bottom line involves the more traditional environmental aspects of sustainability as we have already discussed—selecting products and taking steps to operate in a Greener and more sustainable manner.

However, it also involves taking steps to better the community being served as well as workers, ensuring that we are responsible when it comes to wages, safety, healthcare, etc. And finally, the triple bottom line involves business profits. Of course, a business has a goal of making a profit; this is the foundation of our economy and is great as long as profits are made honorably and legally.

Final Thought

Whether your restoration company deals with Hurricane and disaster clean-up or not it still can take steps to become Greener and more sustainable. Typically, once a business starts taking steps, a “culture of sustainability” evolves. This is when everyone in the organization becomes focused on ways to protect the environment, reduce waste, and use energy, water, and consumables more wisely on a regular basis. Once this culture is created, it becomes a journey with no end point. Businesses are always finding new ways to become more sustainable and more efficient, which helps reduce operating costs.