What Does Sustainability Look Like in a Contract Cleaning Business

green cleaning and sustainabilityIf it has not happened to you yet, most likely it will happen sometime very soon. Large organizations that have adopted green and sustainability policies now want the vendors that service their facilities to demonstrate they have implemented initiatives to operate their businesses sustainably.

This does not mean simply taking steps to reduce consumption, even though that is a central consideration.  This is referred to as the “planet” component of sustainability. But there are two more components that must be addressed.  These are:


A cleaning contractor with sustainability initiatives in place makes sure his or her staff are paid equitably and treated fairly so that they and their families can lead healthy, dignified, and valuable lives.  This also applies to the communities in which they serve.  Have you ever worked with a local school or school district, advising on them ways to incorporate a Green and sustainable cleaning program…as no charge.  This is one way, and a very effective way, to give back to your community.


The first thing we must discuss about the profit component of sustainability is what it is not.  A business is in business to make money, and this applies to a cleaning contractor employing sustainability initiatives. With that clarified, the profit component of sustainability includes such things as the following:
• Charging clients fair amounts for their services
• Ending practices designed to focus only on profits, no matter how it impacts workers, the local community, or the cleaning industry in general
• Ensuring that the company remains profitable and grows, thereby providing employment opportunities
• Being transparent in business operations
• Supporting local businesses to spread economic benefits within the local community
• Complying with all government regulations regarding professional cleaning and workers.

Proving Sustainability

Proving sustainability related to people and profits requires transparency, details, and statistics.  For instance, it is very common for contract cleaners to outsource janitorial work.  In some cases,  if a contractor has won the bid to clean all the branches of a bank throughout the country, outsourcing may be the only way they can do it.

But what if they outsource all their cleaning contracts to local cleaning companies.  Very likely this is being done to avoid paying employment taxes, insurance, healthcare, and other expenses that a business – at least in the U.S. – would normally need to cover.  In other words, they are outsourcing purely for profits, with little care for the workers actually doing the janitorial work.  A contractor promoting sustainability cannot do this.

As to the “planet” component, proving sustainability has become much easier in recent years.  First, of course, contractors must use Green-certified cleaning solutions and equipment. But as to indicating how they have reduced water, fuel, energy needs or reduced waste, sustainability dashboard tools can be used to provide this information.

Information about such things as water and energy use is uploaded into the sustainability dashboard on an ongoing basis. The system then prepares printouts and graphics, indicating progress toward these initiatives, which are typically recognized by organizations as proof of a contractor’s sustainability initiatives.

Why We Need to Know This

By now, most all cleaning contractors are aware of Green cleaning and what it entails.  However, sustainability and all it involves may be new.
Contractors must become more familiar with the entire scope of sustainability as soon as possible for two reasons:

First, it can offer a marketing advantage.  Organizations with their own Green and sustainability initiatives in place like to work with vendors that have done the same.

Second, it will soon be a requirement, especially when working with the larger, more profitable customers.  This is happening now and will increase in the future.  This means those contractors that have already adopted Green and sustainability strategies today, will likely be industry leaders – and more successful cleaning contractors – in future years.

Stephen P. Ashkin is president of The Ashkin Group, and the professional cleaning industry’s leading advocate for promoting sustainability. He is also CEO of Sustainability Dashboard Tools, which offers a cloud-based dashboard that allows organizations to measure, report and improve their sustainability efforts. He is the coauthor of both The Business of Green Cleaning and Green Cleaning for Dummies