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The Exclusive Magazine for the Building Service Contracting Industry Since 1981

Scandinavian Building Services - Defining Sustainability

Written by  Shannon J. Winslow-Claunch

scandinavian building services

On the banks of the North Saskatchewan River in the River Valley Courtesy Explore Edmonton

Lessons from a Canadian Leader

Since 1916, The Conference Board has provided the world’s leading organizations with the practical knowledge they need to improve their performance and better serve society. In a recent Conference Board report titled, Navigating the Sustainability Transformation, author Gilbert Hedstom points out the global drivers of transformation are based in necessity. A sustainable world, corporate sector and individual identity is no longer really a question of ‘should,’ but ‘when.’

“Human society has bumped up against the limits of the economic and natural systems. As industrialism developed in the past, the world had fewer people and more plentiful natural resources. What emerged was a highly productive, take-makewaste system. Take resources out of the earth; make stuff; and throw it away. Though that system seemed to work for a long time, it is no longer sustainable,” Hedstrom reports. For that reason, companies must recognize that sustainability is not just the future…but that sustainability has to become the new status quo and present mindset in order to be relevant and competitive in today’s business world.

In seeking out the right company to highlight as SERVICES Magazine’s sustainable epitome of not only green but also sustainability, we searched far and wide. After all, if we report that a company is one of the best in the commercial cleaning industry then we better be able to back it up with facts. So in reporting on this company we first had to define what sustainability meant in this industry. The Conference Board provides solid evidence that their standards hold true as the research compared and contrasted plenty of examples of companies doing it right such as Airbnb, Google, Tesla, Uber, Unilever and Waste management. But alas, no commercial cleaning model was given. It was up to us to find the poster child of sustainability for commercial cleaning… but, they found us first.

corporate sustainablilty position

In November of last year, a reader reached out to our staff to know how they could advertise in our publication. This Building Service Contactor—obviously on fire with excitement—wanted to tell their peers about all the improvements they had made to their business model and the CEO could think of no better platform than SERVICES by which to communicate their excitement. After a little research into their business model, we could find of no better example of sustainability in action for the commercial cleaning sector than this company. So, instead of advertising…we welcomed them to grace the cover of the 2016 Green Edition.

But, in order to introduce you to this organization we also had to research the geographical influences that have shaped the organization. You see, this company is based in Edmonton, and is one of Canada’s largest providers of commercial cleaning services. And while our publication is distributed north of the border, and content is certainly relevant in both countries, green is governed quite differently in Canada than it is the US. What this research between countries, cultural norms, government regulations and standards has provided is a study on an organization that has grown successfully by reaching beyond Canada’s strict, green regulations and how that mindset has served them as a leader in the industry.

As we welcome you inside Scandinavian Building Services and what makes them so special, we will examine the Corporate Sustainability Positions from Navigating Sustainability and see how the company measures up, compare what it means to be a sustainable commercial cleaning business in the US and in Canada and fully evaluate Scandinavian’s culture based on the criteria set forth and actions the best sustainable businesses should be taking in order to walk the walk of sustainability.

best managed companies

The Scandavian Corporate team: Russell Hay, President, Candace Elford, Director of Insurance and Risk Management, Melanie Brooks, Director of Human Resources, Wilda Hay, Partner, and Terry Hay, CEO, at a luncheon at the Mayfair Golf and Country Club in Edmonton to celebrate the 2013 win as One of Canada’s Best Managed Companies. Courtesy Baron S. Cameron

CEO Terry Hay is a self-proclaimed junky for continual improvement processes. He has been in the commercial cleaning sector for thirty-four years since he and his wife, Wilda purchased Scandinavian. Really, says Terry, their choice to pursue a cleaning company sprang up out of necessity, as Terry served the property management industry up until 1982. He says in that role that he could never find a company to clean the facilities which he managed that offered consistent service, used the right chemicals, or even had standardized and clean uniforms. Terry says, “The cleaning companies we hired were never right. I noticed a niche in the market and thought I could do it better.”

After he bought Scandinavian Terry says he started improving on all those things that he found were problems when he was a customer and then the business model just kept on an upward shift of continuous improvement. Now that Scandinavian Building Services has earned the accolade, ‘One of Canadas Best Managed Companies’ for the last three years, Terry says that he owes his success to his employees. “Success is all about how you treat your people,” he says.

The organization is a Canadian leader in retail cleaning, commercial cleaning and maintenance solutions. Scandinavian has set the standard for quality, service and dependability and for Terry and his family their excitement and passion have created a legacy of sustainability that reaches well beyond the Canadian cities they serve.

A family affair

Russell Hay serves as his father’s right hand man in the role of president. Daughter, Candace Elford is Director of Insurance and Risk Management and Melanie Brooks is the director of Human Resources. Wilda previously worked in the human resources department and is now a partner in the corporation. Russell says that the business model has always been about family, but not just their biological family. They see their entire staff of twenty-five hundred as part of the ‘Scandi-family’ and strive to treat all their members with the same respect that they would treat each other.

The company has continually evolved and never stagnated in the betterment of processes. Now with over nine-hundred commercial clients, Russell says their success and growth has been based on choosing the right clients that can align with the Scandinavian core beliefs and guiding principles. Russell says, “We are a company that is not driven to be the largest. Instead, we are making sure the clients we take on will be the right ones to join our family.” Terry says that this growth formula has been successful only because of their Scandi-family. “We have the lowest turnover of staff in our industry because we treat people well. They are rewarded instantly, monthly and in our annual meetings. We don’t subcontract and our managers are owner operators so that they can have a good standard of living.” Their low attrition rate can also be attributed to a zero tolerance policy on harassment and discrimination. Employees are educated, informed and empowered to speak up. Melanie says they take their responsibility to protect employees and provide a safe working environment seriously, but Scandinavian also has an obligation to ensure employees who enter their client’s property do not have a criminal record or are illegal immigrants.

cleaning crew

Scandinavian Building Services cleaning crew poses for a photo at BC Place in Vancouver, BC. Courtesy Baron S. Cameron

Human resources

Melanie says that potential new hires have to be the right fit for Scandinavian culture; if they can align with their code of conduct, if the employee thrives in a work atmosphere where individuals are treated with respect, and if they can motivate one another and provide the best possible service. Melanie says she is also always cognoscente if Scandinavian will be the best fit for the employee. At Scandinavian, they don’t tolerate abuse of employees by anyone; a fact demonstrated recently when an employee answered the phone and was subsequently yelled at by Terry’s corporate attorney. “When we talk about abuse, and not tolerating it, the circumstance can be so minimal… but it’s just not allowed, for any reason. My corporate lawyer got carried away because an employee didn’t know the answer to the question he was asking. We fired him that day. If someone is going to abuse our employee…they are done.”

Terry says he is proud to be able to run a business that provides people a way to make a good honest living and that he and the executive team really strive to be accessible to all employees. “We have the fancy suits but we are not as important as the people on the ground. Nothing makes me feel better than to know I am supporting those twenty-five-hundred families...education or whatever they need. We have thousands of people counting on us and I can say that they are all happy,” says Terry. Differences in GREEN –

Canada vs. the US

A recent Siemens unique index report compared twenty-seven cities that were selected across the US and Canada. The cities were picked independently rather than relying on requests from city governments to be included, in order to enhance the index’s credibility and comparability. Nine individual categories were compared in the index to include CO2, energy, land use, buildings, transport, water, waste, air, and environmental governance.

Despite the differences between each country’s regulations, cities on both sides of the border did comparatively well in all nine categories. Environmental problems in US and Canadian cities are well-documented and included urban sprawl, greenhouse gas emissions…which in both countries are high by any standard. One city where Canada came out on top was Vancouver. The city earned a number one rating for CO2 omissions and in air quality. Vancouver also ranked fifth in environmental buildings, third in transportation and was awarded the second most environmentally compliant city, overall.

Canadian cities have a reputation for being more environmentally conscious than US cities. One factor in Canada’s strong performance in sustainability could be their robust environmental federal regulations. The Canadian Environmental Protection Act of 1999 is a very detailed federally enforced regulation. Corporations must follow these regulations or be fined. In the US, similar organizations exist but environmental standards are largely suggested and not enforced. Canadian cities have higher policy scores on average – at seventy-eight points out of one-hundred overall, compared with seventy for American cities, which demonstrates the commitment Canadians have made to improving environmental performance.

train in mountains

VIA Rail on the tracks running along the Bow River Banff National Park, about three hours west of Edmonton. Courtesy Courtesy Explore Edmonton

Another factor could be cultural differences in attitudes towards willingness to accept environmental regulations, but there are strong cultural inclinations toward going green in both countries. Canadians certainly have a long history of environmental activism, as Greenpeace was born in Vancouver in 1970. But in the modern green movement in the US—especially in the west—environmentalism has grown as a cultural guiding principle since the 1960s. Certainly, most would agree that both countries have had their own conservation movements reaching back over a century that have shaped policies, commerce and defined culture.

From green to sustainable

Scandinavian Building Services has offices in Vancouver, Calgary, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Toronto, and Montreal, and across rural Canada and are headquared is in Edmonton.. Federal environmental regulations are detailed and carry serious repercussions in the commercial cleaning industry. At the Edmonton based Scandinavian, however, Russell says that compliance with federal policies has really always been a non-issue. “As environmental regulations increase and are slowly put into effect, we have them in place before they become laws in order to meet market demand, client expectations and be in line with our corporate ethics. We make these changes because the improvements are the right thing to do. We always stay ahead of the game, so federal mandates never force us to make major changes in our processes or our culture.” The company takes a highly proactive stance, environmentally. Terry says, “When you already have a program and a culture that is green you are cutting edge and in your own league.”

The Hay family has grown Scandinavian over the past thirty-four years in large part by embracing sustainability principles and that is one of the key reasons they have been more competitive. “Long ago I asked myself, how can we develop a sustainable culture? We preach to our members that they should be more sustainable and leave less of a carbon footprint. Many companies will promote that they are using a green product or machinery but we wanted to go past that.” So, Terry says, that he worked with manufacturers and suppliers to find products and equipment that were better for the environment. They recycled their offices’ pens and paper and converted their uniforms to recycle sourced fabrics.

Once that was achieved he wanted to push further and evaluate, control and improve their consumption of fuel, water, energy and waste as a company. “We started tracking everything we consumed each year and then setting goals that were realistic and attainable to improve upon each year,” says Russell. The goal was to convert the company to close-looped sustainability model; using less, creating less waste and recycling the rest.

biking around the city

Cycling Saskatchewan Drive in the River Valley in Edmonton. Courtesy Explore Edmonton

In order to do that Russell says the company spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to upgrade their company’s infrastructure in 2010—not because they were mandated to—but because they wanted to. “When we decided to really go green and began tracking everything…we knew there was room for improvement in our own operations. We incurred that expense but it wasn’t about the spend. It was really about but how we could be better world citizens. We have to consider the next generation and how we are going to leave the world for them,” says Russell. Terry goes onto say, “We know we are doing everything we can to be good stewards of the environment. Ethically, you can walk down the street and hold your head high if you do that.”

Scandinavian relies on state of the art technology to keep themselves ahead of the game. To make this goal a reality, they built a proprietary software system called ScandiTRAC to house all of their client information. This paperless system has improved efficiency within the company and has increased Scandinavian’s ability to become a leader in sustainable business.

Does it cost more to be a green company? Terry says, emphatically, “yes,” but that going green has ultimately made Scandinavian more competitive in the market. He says, “We are embraced at bids because we have a great reputation and we can manage waste better than anyone.” Scandinavian is one of Canada’s leading commercial cleaning companies in the sectors of construction cleanup, arts, sports and entertainment, special services such as parking lot maintenance, pressure washing, snow removal and steam cleaning, retail, and for public and municipal facilities.

lemons in bucket

Sorting the waste stream, biodegradable from recyclable plastics at the BC Place in Vancouver, BC. Courtesy Baron S Cameron

One recent sector they have discovered opportunity has been in servicing sports and entertainment and that is due in large part to the detail oriented nature of the work and the high quality culture Scandinavian upholds. Russell says, “When we started in sports and entertainment centers their push to zero waste was very high. We have now partnered with them and can drive that focus and have become leaders in this market.” In major sporting, arts, and entertainment venues, all waste must be sorted, recycled or composted. “If there is a piece of lemon in a cup, our staff must care enough about the task at hand to separate the fruit from that cup.” Those types of details and business ethics matter and have value, says Russell, because if his staff does not adhere to the standards, the client is charged.

Giving back, big time

Melanie is in charge of organizing alturism at Scandinavian. The company gives back their time and resources with Habitat for Humanity, BOMA, ISSA,and Wings, a donation based medivac service. They also partner with the event centers they service to find underprivileged and deserving youth to receive tickets to games and events hosted at local venues. Scandinavian’s CEO is very proud of their involvement with Tree Canada, a program that plants a tree each month for every client on the books. Finally, they donate money to UNICEF with the goal of stamping out disease in third world countries. Last year they funded enough vaccine packs for over thirty-eight hundred children to be immunized.

habitat for humanity

Scandinavian CEO Terry Hay and wife and partner, Wilda recently volunteered their workday at Habitat for Humanity in Edmonton.Courtesy Scandinavian Building Services


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