sustainable cleaning

Sustainable practices for a sustainable future

Companies are proud of their sustainable cleaning practices in the year of the pandemic.
Monday, November 23, 2020

For some companies, sustainable cleaning has long been top of mind. For others, it’s become a renewed focus in the wake of 2020, the year of the pandemic. Whatever the state of play has been until this point, though, there’s no doubt that in the current world, the issue is an unavoidable topic of discussion.

Part of the issue of cleaning and maintenance in the age of a global pandemic is that, naturally, there can be an inclination to be reactionary in decision-making. However, avoiding that knee-jerk desire to find quick solutions is vitally important, else the industry can end up with a variety of band-aid measures that come unstuck under prolonged scrutiny.

The tendency can be to look for something that’s going to kill COVID-19 effectively and quickly, but the reality of that can be that the products or methods used do more harm than good in the medium and long term. An absence of sustainable cleaning could be environmentally unfriendly or even potentially harmful to workers or visitors. It’s also vital for companies, when faced with the need for more or revised products, to avoid creating secondary issues like more pollutants.

In that environment of acknowledgement, sustainable cleaning comes to the fore. Now, after over eight months of serious recognition of the impact of the pandemic, firms are seeing the current landscape as an opportunity to step back and reevaluate cleaning programs. Sustainability was a topic at the recent ISSA Show North America, and FC&M talked to several companies about what they’ve been doing to look to the long term.

Inspiring confidence through certification

One way of showing your green concerns is to get certified. ABCO Cleaning Products, for instance, has long prided itself on carrying the global Green Seal certification for its products, which include a long line of mopheads and dust mops. That recognition is particularly important to it and its customers, say director of operations Carlos Albir and national sales manager Luis Janania.

“We’re having tremendous feedback on that certification from a lot of the distributors that see the value behind it,” says Janania. “It really allows them to start selling simple products like mops and dust mops to an industry that’s very much moving toward sustainability.”

Meanwhile, many of Whittaker Systems’ carpet cleaning formulae and products have also earned Green Seal certification, which director of technical services Joe Bshero describes as the industry gold standard.  Whittaker also reinforces customer trust by passing thorough tests to achieve WoolSafe and Carpet & Rug Institute approvals. Bshero notes the WoolSafe certification ultimately means that the products are officially greenlighted as being safe on all carpet constructions, leading to an easier and more efficient cleaning process.

Sustainability in practice

Sustainability fits with everything that’s going on in the world in 2020. There’s already far more focus on how people are cleaning, when they’re cleaning, what they’re cleaning with, what additional tasks they have introduced, and so forth. Part of the battle companies face, says Janania, is changing the perception that “going greener” means more expense. In reality, it’s more about a) having the desire to pursue a more sustainable approach and b) making the pivots necessary to achieve that.

Communicating sustainability is another important factor. Just as programs like ISSA’s GBAC STAR accreditation allows facility managers to show off cleanliness credentials, open messaging conveys to customers and end users how businesses are working towards a sustainable future. Albir explains that ABCO’s vertical integration allows it to demonstrate its environmentally friendly approach from raw material to finished goods. “We’re able to show how we’re recycling this clothing garment scrap to convert it into raw material that we spin into yarn to then produce all these types of mopheads and dust mops,” he says.

Hydro Systems’ global product manager John Goetz notes sustainability is tied into practicalities, too. The company’s newly developed chemical dispensing systems remove a certain degree of human error. “The one thing we don’t want with the chemical dispensers is the end user coming into contact with the chemicals, free pouring or mixing,” notes Goetz. Instead, they provide a solution that dispenses the appropriate amount of chemical dilution each time. This, says Goetz, helps to cut down on waste. “Getting the job done first time in terms of kitchen and laundry means less rewash, which of course would use more chemicals, more water, more utility.”

Meanwhile, Sofidel vice president Fabio Vitali explains that his company has been working for over a decade on biodegradable dispensary products made from non-plastic sources that cause less environmental harm.

A focus moving forward

There are renewed efforts in the present, too. In time, Vitali says, Sofidel noted that ocean preservation was a hugely important and often overlooked issue and so its Papernet brand of HyTech dispensers now includes HyTech Ocean, which utilizes plastic that is recovered from unstable ocean materials. The final result is a product that is made of 100% biorecyclable plastic, 30% of which is ocean plastic.

Vitali explains that the net effect in terms of ocean preservation is negative. “We don’t add, we take out because we re-use part of the plastic and the rest is recyclable. We’re very proud of this development, we believe it’s the first of its kind.” The initiative is currently limited to a couple of items but the company is looking to expand it across the board. In addition, Sofidel was recently awarded a Leadership Award by the Forest Stewardship Council in recognition of its efforts towards responsible sourcing and forest management. It also released a few months ago a plastic-free packaging.

Other companies, too, have been achieving recognition. Ecolab Inc., for instance, was just named to the 2020 Dow Jones Sustainability™ World Index, which evaluates the sustainability performance of the largest companies listed on the Dow Jones. And other innovations in the field are focusing on long-term capabilities and a sustainable future.

Bshero notes that Whittaker’s carpet cleaning machines are extremely durable, with an average life of about 10 years, while its cylindrical brushes generally last for a million square feet per set. He acknowledges that improper carpet cleaning results in materials thrown on a landfill far too soon and that one of Whittaker’s biggest sources of pride is that it reduces the frequency with which that occurs.

Whittaker uses approximately a single gallon of cleaning solution to clean around one thousand square feet of carpet, saving a vast amount of water with the type of low-moisture systems that have become commonplace. The relatively quiet operation of the machines, too, means they can be used for day cleaning in offices and call centres without too much disruption. That, in turn, means their usage doesn’t require burning lights, heating, or air conditioning at night.

A sustained push

When it comes to sustainability in cleaning and maintenance, of course, we’ve barely scratched the surface here. But, moving forward, don’t expect this discussion to go away. If anything, sustainability’s importance is only likely to continue to grow.

The concept of “green cleaning” can be misunderstood. It doesn’t mean that cleaning tasks aren’t being carried out as well or as often; rather, the crux of the idea is that different tools and processes are being used, ones that are more sustainable. It’s been on the agenda for some time now, but an inevitable result of a year like 2020 is that the industry’s thinking shifts more to long-term viability. The more widely sustainability is a point of focus and discussion, the more it can be embraced.

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