Over the years, I have had the pleasure of attending and presenting at tradeshows catering to the carpet cleaning industry. During that time, I have also witnessed the carpet cleaning industry become Greener and more sustainable.
However, what I am finding is that many carpet cleaning technicians – and I should add many cleaning contractors and even facility managers as well – are unclear about the difference between Green and sustainability. In fact, many people assume Green and sustainable are the same thing. They are not. So let me address the differences and more specifically, how it pertains to carpet cleaning technicians and the entire carpet cleaning industry.
Green tends to focus solely on the products – cleaning solutions, tools, equipment – as well as cleaning procedures and methods. A certified Green cleaning solution, for example, would need to meet the standards and criteria established by independent, third-party organizations in order to be certified. This means the product has a reduced impact on the user, building users, and the environment. Similarly, equipment that have earned the Seal of Approval from the Carpet and Rug Institute, would also be recognized as equipment that is protective of the environment.
While sustainability does include the use of Green cleaning solutions, products, and equipment that are more environmentally responsible, that is just one leg of what sustainability is all about. In many cases, “just” being Green will suffice.
But if they decide to take the next step, they must realize that sustainability is much broader and comprehensive and includes many of the actual practices of the carpet cleaning company. The three legs of sustainability are often referred to as the Triple-Bottom Line and reference the following:
The first leg, planet, we have already discussed above. “People” involves social equity and human resource issues. This would include such things as paying workers’ a fair living wage for their services, ensuring they have safe working conditions, hiring practices that are nondiscriminatory, programs that help ensure worker advancement, provide health insurance, diversity, etc.
The “People” component has historically been a problem area in many organizations including the professional cleaning and carpet cleaning industries. Many workers, for instance, are hired on a part time basis so they do not have to cover their workers with health insurance. While it is true our industry is very competitive, hiring workers would not be a practice of a sustainable carpet cleaning organization.
The “Profit” leg of sustainability is actually key to the entire triple-bottom line. We could not expect a carpet cleaning company, or any organization for that matter, to operate, address the needs of their workers, and take steps to protect the planet if it cannot sustain itself. In fact, the first piece of having a sustainable business is having a business, which requires profits. The organization should make a fair and reasonable profit by charging adequately for its services as well as implementing practices that can help reduce costs, such as improving efficiencies. Taking a broader look at “Profit,” it can also be viewed as the economic benefits the company provides for its community.
Finally, while it is not part of the triple-bottom line, a carpet cleaning organization’s sustainability program must include transparency. There is a growing requirement for organizations that claim to be sustainable to report what they are doing including how they run their organization, the types of cleaning tools, chemicals, and equipment they use, along with their financial, environmental and social efforts.
Transparency is becoming a much bigger and more important issue in all types of businesses and organizations. For instance, in 2010 only 19 percent of the S&P 500 published a sustainablity report. By 2015, that had jumped to 75 percent. I predict that increasingly, cleaning service providers will report on their sustainability efforts. Because of this, I predict that increasingly, cleaning service providers of all types will soon be reporting on their sustainability efforts.
Stephen P. Ashkin is founder of the Green Cleaning Network, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to educating building owners and suppliers about Green Cleaning and president of The Ashkin Group a consulting firm specializing in Greening the cleaning industry. He is considered the “father of Green Cleaning,” on the Board of the Green Sports Alliance, and has been inducted into the International Green Industry Hall of Fame (IGIHOF).