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Monday, 23 June 2008 13:23

Going Green, Even in Hard Economic Times

Written by  Steve Ashkin

america smallWhether we call it an economic downturn, adjustment or recession and blame it on the government, housing slump, high cost of petroleum or other reasons, reports of hard economic times are filling the media. And, frankly what’s more important—it is impacting our customers. 

Historically, when facility managers and building owners faced difficult economic times, they were often forced to reduce costs across the board. Often, cleaning and maintenance was seen as “non essential,” unlike reducing the number of employees or eliminating processes that might be core to the actual organization’s business. As a result, facility repairs were often delayed and cleaning at a higher rate compared to cuts in other areas.

Unfortunately, it is my suspicion that you may already be experiencing requests—or demands from customers to reduce your costs by five percent, 10 percent or more. And, if you haven’t heard these requests yet, my belief is you will in the future. While I don’t want to be negative, I do think it is important that as a business owner or manager, you need to be prepared to address these requests.

So, what are you prepared to do? You can simply agree to the request and cut costs. But in this case, it is important to consider how cuts will affect the level of cleanliness and I don’t mean appearances, but real sanitation and hygiene. What is also important is to make sure you discuss this with your customer.

However, it has been my experience that facility managers are unhappy with reducing their budget—just as much as we are (okay, not as much as we are…). Before just agreeing to a cost reduction, provide them with the information that may help them argue the importance of facility maintenance and cleaning. It really is essential to the core mission of the organization.

For some facilities it will be possible to find efficiencies in your cleaning processes. While this has been a key focus for contractors for years, this nonetheless is an opportunity to again consider strategies for improvement. This may be achieved through renewed training or through the use of new products, equipment and technologies that can help drive productivity improvement.

Because cleaning is so vital to the health and productivity of building occupants, I am reluctant to suggest that you reduce the level and frequency of cleaning. But there may be things you can do that help reduce costs, while not sacrificing sanitation.

for example, a significant expense for many buildings is tied to removing trash and recycling. prioritize trash removal to ensure you are managing the trash from cafeterias, pantries and food-service areas to eliminate foods and other wastes that attract insects and rodents, which can lead to serious problems within a building. However, reducing the frequency of removing dry trash from offices and public areas can be a good way of reducing costs without potentially increasing risks among building occupants.

One option along these lines is to encourage “cooperative” cleaning. While this is a slight misnomer because we should not ask occupants to “clean” the building, there are activities that occupants can perform that help minimize the impacts of a reduced budget. These “cooperative” activities can include emptying the trash and recyclables into centrally located collection areas, which in turn allows us to focus on priorities such as cleaning restrooms, fl oors, carpets, food preparation, health areas and pest management.

Another opportunity to consider is “daytime cleaning.” In this cleaning strategy, some of the work that is traditionally done at night when the building is otherwise vacant is conducted during the day. The financial savings in this strategy is not a reduction in head count, but rather the energy costs tied to turning off building lights and possibly reducing ventilation rates for a few extra hours each evening when night cleaners are currently in the building.

This can have significant financial savings and be used to offset requested reductions in the cleaning budget.

perhaps the most important opportunity that can be achieved during this time of possible budget cuts is to use green cleaning to actually grow your business. that’s right—actually grow your business!

for many facility managers and building owners, this will be a time of tough decisions and difficult changes. Whether we or they like it or not, change is going to happen. Thus, use this time for change as an opportunity to help prospects “go green” and grow your business.

Many of your competitors will simply respond to customers by cutting services. As a result, this may be that perfect opportunity for you to sell your green service, especially to those building owners and facility managers who have been waiting for the right time or perhaps are even skeptical that green was here to stay.

This is a terrific opportunity to tell your prospects that you can be the one to help them implement green cleaning. Yes, you may have to provide a reduced service, but make sure you are focusing on those activities that truly protect occupant health and help your prospects understand how best to prioritize those activities. This is also a good time to look at new green equipment and processes, along with issues like cooperative and daylight cleaning systems.

I highly encourage you to help your customers and prospects understand the value to their overall organization and why cleaning is important and shouldn’t be reduced. Before cutting anything, look for savings opportunities that can be rolled into the level of cleaning necessary to maintain a healthy high performing building, as long as you get credit for it.

And remember, green cleaning is happening! recession or not, this is the time to implement green cleaning and to use it to help your customers and prospects—and to grow your business.



Steve Ashkin is president of The Ashkin Group, an internationally respected consulting firm working to “green” the global cleaning industry. Ashkin is widely considered the “father of green cleaning” and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or (812) 332-7950

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