The New Direction for the Professional Cleaning Industry

Green cleaning is now mainstream in most facilities in North America. Most of the time, it’s a “done deal”  with traditional cleaning products only selected when Green alternatives are not available or do not measure up in price or performance, rarely an issue any longer.

But now building owners and managers are asking something new of the professional cleaning industry, and that is to be more sustainability-focused. As these building owners and managers adopt sustainability practices in their own properties, they want their vendors – including janitorial distributors and cleaning contractors – to be implementing sustainability practices in their business operations as well.  This means they want to work with vendors that treat their workers fairly, provide benefits, pay living wages, and also give back to their local communities. In short, they want everyone on the same “sustainability team.”

Many building owners and managers view sustainability today as they did Green cleaning 15 years ago. It indicates to tenants and potential tenants that their facilities are well operated and efficient. This has proven over the year to allow them to attract better and longer-lasting tenants. Plus, they are finding operating more efficiently and practicing sustainability have resulted in cost savings… an added benefit.

So how are they encouraging the professional cleaning industry to become more sustainable?

Many now require sustainability reports to be included in requests for proposals (RFPs) from janitorial manufacturers, distributors, even cleaning contractors. They are following the example of some of the largest companies in the country. This is part of a trend that looks like it is gathering steam and will continue into the foreseeable future. According to the Governance and Accountability Institute:

Sustainability reporting rose dramatically from 2011, when roughly 20 percent of [Standard & Poor’s 500] companies published reports, to 72 percent just [two] years later in 2013. From 2013 to 2017, the frequency of reporting has increased each year, now up to 85 percent of companies reporting in 2017.*

This demand is trickling through the entire professional cleaning industry, just as Green cleaning did years ago. Distributors and others in the industry are accessing sustainability tools to help analyze their sustainability practices. These tools include online sustainability “dashboard” technologies, now available through ISSA, the worldwide cleaning association, and other organizations to measure and monitor their use of energy, water, fuel, waste, and other metrics.

We owe the building industry a lot of thanks for this. Your demand for Green cleaning, and now sustainability, has helped change entire industries for the better by helping them save money, be more sustainable, attract the next generation of employees who want to work for a sustainable organization, and pushing small to medium size distributor be more competitive with big box.

Other industries will build on this and together we can make a cleaner, healthier world.

Stephen P. Ashkin is president of The Ashkin Group, a consulting firm specializing in Green cleaning and sustainability. He is considered the “father of Green Cleaning,” is on the board of the Green Sports Alliance, and has been inducted into the International Green Industry Hall of Fame (IGIHOF). He is now helping jansan professionals turn sustainability into cost savings. He can be reached at


* Flash Report: 85% of S&P 500 Index® Companies Publish Sustainability Reports in 2017, 3BL Media; The Standard & Poor’s 500 is an index of the 500 largest publicly traded companies in the United States. They are viewed as corporate bellwethers when it comes to the economy as well as business operations.