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Reducing water and energy consumption in commercial cleaning

 

Implementing innovative technologies, such as water-efficient cleaning machines and automated chemical dosing systems, ensures sustainable practices, cost savings, and a positive corporate image in the global push for environmental responsibility.

 

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Sustainability
 
January 31, 2024
 
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Reducing water and energy consumption in commercial cleaning
 

Efforts to minimise environmental impact within the commercial cleaning sector are paramount, emphasising the urgent need for reducing water and energy consumption. Implementing innovative technologies, such as water-efficient cleaning machines and automated chemical dosing systems, ensures sustainable practices, cost savings, and a positive corporate image in the global push for environmental responsibility. In this feature, we speak to industry experts about the issue of paramount significance - Reducing water and energy consumption in commercial cleaning.

Ron Segura, President, Segura Associates
While it may have slipped from centre stage during the COVID-19 pandemic, sustainability has returned to the spotlight as a major focus of businesses worldwide. The need to reduce water and energy usage sooner than later has become painfully apparent for environmental, safety, health, and financial reasons. 

The good news is cleaning industry manufacturers are rising to the challenge. Many are producing products and equipment that require less water and reduce toxic chemical and energy usage while maintaining and often improving cleanliness standards. Below are just some of the resource-saving innovations being used by today’s commercial cleaning sector.

Chemicals
The use of harsh, often toxic cleaning chemicals has been dramatically reduced in recent years by innovations such as microfiber, aqueous ozone, and hypochlorous acid formulations, to name but a few. These new technologies have been proven to produce superior results yet are safer for humans, gentler on the environment, and significantly reduce water, energy, and other resource consumption.

Floor coatings 
Advancements in floor care products extend the time between floor stripping and refinishing and lengthen floor life cycles, all of which decrease water and energy use, labour, and associated costs.

Equipment
The list of equipment developed by industry manufacturers to reduce water and energy usage is nearly infinite. Low-moisture carpet extractors, floor scrubbers, diamond floor pads, and the host of today’s other heavy and light-duty innovations can be used dry or with minimal water. Many run on long-lasting, quick-recharge batteries as well.

Robotics
Advances, such as automated floor machines that map areas for maximum cleaning efficiency and robotic “arms” for restroom cleaning, can reduce not only labour but also energy, water, and chemical usage. These savings are expected to accelerate as the field of robotics grows.

Building Buy-In
New technologies that use less water, energy, and other natural resources, making them more sustainable and environmentally friendly, can only meet their goals if they are used. Without the buy-in of frontline workers, companies are better off spending their dollars elsewhere versus investing in products and equipment that will sit idle.

Creating an atmosphere of stewardship is essential to ensure cleaning teams accept and welcome new technologies. This is best done by building a committee composed of top management, supervisors/team leaders, and select frontline workers. Including members from all three groups is vital. Incorporating management shows adopting new technologies is a company priority. Including supervisors illustrates that leaders are excited about innovations that can improve cleaning outcomes and encourages buy-in from team members. Frontline workers must be part of the committee because they are the ones who will use the technologies and are best suited to provide helpful feedback. Perhaps more importantly, including them sends an important message to the rest of the frontline team that their opinions matter.  

In addition to reviewing innovations, the committee should be tasked with reviewing processes and practices that may need updating to reduce resource waste. These can be as simple as developing protocols to ensure equipment is properly turned off and batteries are sufficiently charged to prevent waste.

Training: The key to sustainable success
Once a new technology has been approved and purchased, education and training are vital. Your manufacturer and/or distributor rep can train appointed committee members who, in turn, can train the frontline workers, or the reps can be involved in all stages of training. No technology should be introduced for use at a customer’s site until thorough training, including successful hands-on operation, has been completed.

The need to save water and energy is indisputable for environmental, health, and financial reasons. Adapting new technologies and ensuring they are used correctly can help commercial cleaners meet—and reap the benefits—of their sustainable goals.

Andrea Yoko, Head - Technical, AGFM
The emergence of innovative cleaning technologies has revolutionised the industry by addressing the critical need for water conservation without compromising cleanliness standards. Cleaning by its nature is a water intensive one. 

We have witnessed several cutting-edge technologies from many manufacturers  that feature variable speed drives, intelligent sensors, and optimised water usage that have been developed to significantly reduce water usage in the cleaning process, marking a substantial step towards sustainability. The development of water-efficient cleaning machines, such as low-flow pressure washers and scrubbers has played a crucial role in minimising water usage as they optimise water flow and pressure; a game changer where large surface areas need frequent cleaning.

I have been a long-time advocate of high-pressure steam cleaning, and this is an underutilised method that is a standout innovation in this regard. By utilising steam at elevated temperatures, this technology effectively removes dirt, grime and stains without the need for excessive water compared to traditional methods. Steam not only enhances cleaning efficiency, provides a healthcare level safe hygienic environment in addition to water conservation.

Nanotechnology
The nanoparticles are so small that they penetrate even into microscopic cracks and folds of any surface. Due to their action, they dissolve dirt and pull it to the surface, where it is extremely easy to wipe it even without mechanical scrubbing. The nano protection after application perfectly seals the surface and makes it perfectly smooth. Any dirt, water, oil, dust, etc. won't stick to such a surface. This will make the subsequent cleaning much easier and faster by up to 80%. Nano particles create an invisible layer on the surface, which has strong self-cleaning properties (hydrophobic, oleophobic effect). At the same time, however, the vapour-permeable properties of the material are preserved, since the nano elements themselves do not adhere to the surface by means of a binder, but by means of chemical bonds and magnetic forces. The protective film only disappears by mechanical wear or gradual weathering, so this layer needs to be renewed over time. Nano protection significantly extends the interval required for maintenance and speeds it up and makes it easier. In addition, it is also cheaper, because ordinary water is enough to remove impurities.

Ultrasonic cleaning
This technology employs sound waves to create microscopic bubbles in a cleaning solution. As the bubbles implode, they produce a scrubbing action which dislodges contaminants. It significantly reduces water usage as it relies on the solution's effectiveness rather than excessive water volume. Used more in precision cleaning of delicate equipment, electronics, and medical devices.

Efficient cleaning practices
One of the most exciting developments in our efforts to reduce water use in FM is in the application of so-called smart devices and data-led technology. New technology is currently transforming the FM sector and making it more efficient, sustainable and agile. We have witnessed significant advancements with the integration of technology, including the use of the Internet of Things (IoT), big data, and robotic cleaning solutions. IoT-enabled sensors can be integrated into cleaning equipment and facilities to monitor cleanliness levels, usage patterns, and equipment performance in real-time. 

Cleaning equipment and tools can be connected to a centralised system, allowing for remote monitoring and control. This connectivity enhances efficiency and enables predictive maintenance. By analysing data on foot traffic, usage patterns, and environmental conditions, cleaning schedules can be optimised for maximum effectiveness and resource efficiency. These technological advancements not only improve the efficiency and effectiveness of cleaning processes but also contribute to cost savings, resource optimization, and a safer working environment for cleaning staff.

Automated chemical dosing systems offer significant benefits in terms of water consumption. They optimise the use of chemicals by precisely measuring and dispensing the required amounts, preventing overuse and wastage. The accuracy ensures that the right concentration is applied to prevent sticky surfaces and copious amounts of water to remove the excess runoff. They contribute to consistent cleaning results while minimising human error. 

High efficiency equipment with pre-programmed “solution saver” functions for accurate dosing of water and chemicals to reduce unnecessary waste. They use less water, run longer without stopping to dump and refill tanks while conserving water up to 70%. Selecting ENERGY STAR-certified equipment, ensures that the equipment meets strict energy efficiency guidelines. In addition, keeping the equipment well-maintained and clean ensures optimum performance and prevents energy loss.

Green cleaning is highly recommended for water and energy conservation. This involves using energy-efficient appliances and implementing water-saving techniques during the cleaning process. When it comes to energy conservation, the choice of cleaning equipment plays a vital role in reducing energy consumption. 

Facility management companies should consider obtaining certifications to ensure quality and safety in the commercial cleaning industry.

Investment in sustainable equipment
Discuss the importance of investing in energy-efficient equipment such as vacuum cleaners, floor scrubbers, and pressure washers. 

Investing in energy-efficient and sustainable practices and equipment enhances the corporate image. Consumers and clients increasingly prefer environmentally responsible companies. By showcasing a commitment to energy efficiency, cleaning operations can attract environmentally conscious clients and contribute to building a positive reputation.

While the initial investment in energy-efficient equipment may be higher, the long-term operational cost savings are substantial. Reduced energy consumption translates to lower utility bills, leading to financial benefits over the equipment's lifespan. This cost-effectiveness is particularly evident as energy prices continue to fluctuate. 

Water recycling and reuse
Water recycling is more critical than ever in today's world. The scarcity of resources globally has underscored the importance of the circular economy concept. This concept emphasises an economy with closed material loops, challenging the conventional linear approach of "take-make-dispose." The circular economy (CE) aims to address issues arising from this linear model, including resource depletion, excessive waste generation, and environmental pollution. 

In January 2021, the UAE government initiated the UAE Circular Economy Policy 2021-2031, promoting recycling measures. Instead of simply disposing of water, there is a need for end-of-life treatments. This shift is crucial to mitigating resource depletion and reducing the environmental impact associated with traditional linear practices. 

Water recycling opportunities in the commercial cleaning process can vary from one building to another, depending on the specific cleaning processes and equipment used. Recognizing and implementing effective water recycling measures in commercial cleaning not only contributes to resource conservation but also aligns with the principles of the circular economy, fostering a more sustainable and environmentally conscious approach. Some of the most common possibilities include the use of closed-loop systems to capture and filter the water used during the cleaning process. The filtered water can then be reused in the same machine or for other cleaning purposes. Installing water reclamation units in pressure washing systems to capture, filter, and reuse water is another possibility. These units can separate contaminants and allow for the recycling of water for subsequent cleaning tasks. Introducing filtration systems whenever possible also provides an opportunity to recycle water in the commercial cleaning process. This filtered water can be recycled for further use, reducing the need for freshwater. Nowadays, having ultrasonic cleaning systems is another possibility in encouraging water recycling. Although rainwater harvesting is not popular in the Middle East region due to a lack of rain, possibilities can be considered for water storage during occasional rains.

Employee training and awareness
Employee training and awareness play a crucial role in the success of FM operations, contributing to enhanced efficiency, sustainability and overall job satisfaction. Proper training ensures that cleaning staff are well versed in the use of modern efficient equipment and cleaning techniques, best practices, safety protocols, and the importance of sustainability in their roles. 

Training fosters a sense of pride in the work of staff. When they understand the impact of their actions on the environment, they are more likely to embrace sustainable practice willingly. This awareness can be instilled through training sessions, workshops, industry trends, and informational material that highlight the importance of conservation, waste reduction and environmental stewardship. An informed and engaged staff is more adaptable to changing industry standards and regulations. Keeping abreast of advancements in cleaning technologies, eco-friendly practices, and safety guidelines contribute to the overall success.