Let’s start with a scenario:
You are a contract cleaner. You were one of the first contract cleaners in your community to adopt a green cleaning strategy, transfer to green cleaning products and methods and market yourself as a green cleaning building service contractor.
You took this approach a good 15 years ago, which was a perfect time to join the green cleaning movement. And, as more and more of your clients decided they wanted their facilities cleaned with green cleaning products, tools, strategies and equipment, you were experienced, knowledgeable and ready, which means you landed the account.
And the future looked bright. It appeared more and more businesses were jumping on the green cleaning bandwagon, and some, such as schools, were now required to use green cleaning products and programs. But that was last year, and a lot may change over the next few years to come.
While the past administration was very focused on environmental issues, the actions of the current administration do not appear to point in that direction. And while I do not get involved in political issues, the reality is that we do have a new set of cards on the table when it comes to the environment, and this may have an impact on green cleaning and our industry.
So, what should you do? You have been marketing yourself as a green cleaning contractor for more than 15 years. Should you just put that aside and return to traditional cleaning solutions, thinking there will no longer be a call for environmentally preferable cleaning products?
Or do you take a different approach and become a leader in your community, educating customers and potential customers on the importance of green cleaning, sustainability and the benefits derived by sticking with this strategy?
First, Take a Deep Breath
Before making any decisions on how to proceed, it is best to take a deep breath and evaluate the current circumstances. First, the federal government moves slowly. Even if an executive order were issued today, eliminating the requirement that federal offices - the largest purchaser of green cleaning products - select environmentally preferable cleaning solutions, there likely would be no changes for possibly up to two years. This is because many of the purchasing agreements the government has with suppliers that provide green cleaning solutions will run for another year or two.
Second, if there is no monetary incentive to return to traditional cleaning solutions, many federal agencies will likely choose to stay green. In recent years, the costs of most green cleaning solutions have come down and are now on par with the costs of traditional cleaning products. And, when you consider that so many of these green cleaning products are highly concentrated, last longer and are manufactured, packaged and delivered with sustainability in mind, they may even cost less than traditional cleaning solutions, essentially eliminating any reason to return to old methods. *
We should also add that many states have adopted legislation requiring the use of green cleaning products in schools, state and government buildings, public buildings operated by the state and so on. Most are unlikely to revisit these laws.
Further, we must always remember that many nongovernmental agencies have become strong advocates for environmentally preferable cleaning. The Green Sports Alliance, for example, has grown significantly in the past decade as professional sports and sports venues have come to realize how important and cost effective it is to adopt environmentally preferable and sustainable strategies.
What is Your Leadership Role?
Let’s use another scenario to illustrate how you can be a leader in promoting green cleaning. You are bidding on the cleaning needs of a multi-story, multi-tenant office building. While management did require the use of green cleaning products in the past, it is now open to the use of traditional cleaning products, especially if there is a cost incentive to switch.
And as many cleaning contractors know, the bidding process is changing. The days of just dropping off a bid and waiting for a phone call from a building manager saying “you’re hired” are disappearing fast. What’s happening now is managers are looking for a contractor that does not just clean their facilities, but will partner with them, working together to keep their facility clean and healthy and to reduce costs where possible.
To assist in finding such a contractor partner, many managers now ask those bidding on the cleaning needs of their facility not only to submit a bid or respond to a request for proposal, but also to make a presentation to the manager, his or her staff and any other stakeholders involved in the operation of the facility.
Typically, the top three to five cleaning contractors in the running will be asked to deliver such a presentation. It is in this presentation that you can use your leadership in green cleaning and sustainability issues to make a case for green cleaning. Your presentation should include an informal talk to the management staff along with a slide presentation to complement the talk.
In the slide presentation, you can include more information about the benefits of Green Cleaning, such as the following:
It reduces asthma attacks. An estimated 12 percent of all work-related asthma problems are due to the cleaning products used. Green cleaning products help reduce or eliminate asthma attacks. Studies, specifically those done in schools, have shown that when traditional cleaning products are replaced with green cleaning alternatives, asthma and other respiratory problems decrease, often significantly.
It is safer for cleaning workers. More than a third of conventional cleaning products can cause skin and eye damage. Green cleaning products are safer for cleaning workers. When used properly, there is less chance for injuries to the eyes and skin with green cleaning products, helping to protect workers on the job.
It helps schools and school children. Green cleaning programs are proving to be very effective. According to a 2014 report by the U.S. Green Building Council, “a typical green school saves $100,000 per year on operating costs, enough to hire at least one new teacher, buy 200 new computers or purchase 5,000 textbooks” when a green cleaning program is implemented.
In the report, “Greening America’s Schools: Costs and Benefits,” author Gregory Kats concludes,” a three to five percent improvement in learning ability and test scores was reported in green schools, and it is believed this was a conservative estimate.
It reduces chemical exposure. While most of us are exposed to cleaning chemicals only an hour or two a week at most, a cleaning worker or housekeeper may be exposed to them for eight hours or more every day. One San Francisco hotel decided to “go green” for this reason. “These are products housekeepers constantly use, every day they work,” said the hotel manager. “That’s much more exposure than someone who periodically spends an hour cleaning his or her home. Therefore, I am certain that reduced exposure to harsh chemicals can be a real benefit to those who use them every day they work.” **
Of course, we are speculating here about the impact the new administration will have on green cleaning. At this point, there is a lot of momentum that is in favor of a green cleaning strategy; it is hard to believe that the industry and its clients would reverse course and go backward.
However, that does not mean that contract cleaners should just sit back. There are many reasons it is important to become a leader of green cleaning: your clients and future clients want to work with a leader in green cleaning, you will be viewed as an expert in your field, they will seek to partner with you to keep their facilities clean and healthy and a host of marketing and related opportunities are likely to materialize. Now is the time to step up to the “green” plate.
Stephen P. Ashkin is the 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,” serves on the board of the Green Sports Alliance, and has been inducted into the International Green Industry Hall of Fame (IGIHOF).
*Green cleaning solutions are made using renewable resources and are often delivered in large, five-gallon containers with minimal packaging. The larger containers also reduce transport needs, which reduces fuel costs and the greenhouse gases released due to the transportation of these products.
**University of Michigan and other sources.