What is ‘Sustainability’; the word sustainability is from the Latin word ‘sustinere’ (tenere, to hold; sub, up). Sustain means to maintain, to support or endure. Sustainability can be defined as the practice of reserving resources for future generations without causing harm to the natural environment.
Today the word ‘sustainability’ means acting on climate change.
So where does green cleaning fit into all of this and what do we need to do to achieve it within our operations.
How do we define sustainable green cleaning?
Sustainable cleaning refers to cleaning habits and methodology that can be performed without negatively affecting our health or that of the environment. In other words, it's a maintainable cleaning routine that is good for your employees, clients, building and good for the environment. With the adoption of 21st-century cleaning methods, a sustainable cleaning company can offer significant cost savings and environmental savings on water, energy, plastic savings and waste management and can aid in reporting lower carbon emissions in comparison to non-sustainable cleaning companies.
Let us look at each pillar of sustainability and how achievable are these pillars in this industry.
The 3 pillars of sustainability are Social, Economic and Environmental. How are they perceived and incorporated into the cleaning services or FM Industry? And is there an appetite for change?
Green cleaning supports sustainability on a number of levels, including energy efficiency, raw material conservation, water consumption, waste management, and the development of new clean technologies.
Cleaning services and FM companies need to look to locally manufactured green cleaning products and green hygiene supplies. Locally manufactured helps to reduce costs both from an importing aspect and carbon emissions as there is minimal transportation involved and you have a total overview of the supply chain.
Obviously, the business needs to be financially healthy to ‘sustain’ the employees and keep any investors happy.
How can we achieve this when you often compete in a market where not all companies are adopting the 3 pillars of sustainability as their business model and you are being squeezed by pricing? You can adopt 21st-century cleaning and more efficient methods of cleaning and show the client that you add value to their operations as they can show the marketplace and their clients or consumers that they choose a sustainable and transparent way of doing business. Employee engagement and training on how to implement a new cleaning methodology is extremely important. When your employees are engaged and you show them the facts of how the traditional cleaning chemicals have a very bad effect on their health, when they are treated with respect and better paid, you have low staff turnover which is good for the business continuity and the financials.
Green cleaning helps to prolong the life of a building as the green chemicals do not cause any damage to the facility, thereby giving longevity to the building. Sustainable green cleaning is a significant marketing tool and a requirement for businesses and buildings seeking LEED Certification.
This is a very important aspect of the 3 pillars of sustainability and probably the most difficult pillar to achieve especially within the FM Industry as economics play a fundamental role here. From the triple bottom line of People, Planet & Profit, Profitability is often the priority. Obviously, one needs to be profitable to support the needs of the employees and the business, but we do need to look to the bigger picture. The business strategy must be about supply chain transparency, labour, anti-corruption, human rights, and the environment.
This can be achieved by adopting values and ethics throughout the company. Everybody knows now that any business not working towards sustainability, will not (and should not) be in business in the future. We at Green Touches are United Nations Global Compact UAE local network members and align our business strategy with the compact and the 17
Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs2030). This business strategy ensures that we achieve all 3 pillars of sustainability within our company and produce a COP along with a sustainability report to show this. The industry must move towards better pay and working conditions for the employees. This will affect the bottom line, but these are the choices that must be made if we are to follow the path of sustainability if all 3 pillars are to be achieved.
The adoption of sustainable green cleaning benefits all. Employees, clients, facilities, and our environment alike, as it improves indoor air quality (VOCs), improves employee performance and productivity, reduces absenteeism and illness and prevents toxic chemicals from entering our groundwater and reduces waste to landfills.
By adopting 21st century clean technologies and researching green products, one can find excellent products with nanotechnologies and clean far more effectively than traditional products and this allows for One Product Cleans All (almost). Our employees are not exposed to toxins and use recycled bottles with products. This prevents all this plastic (broken bottles and generally made from non-recyclable plastic) from entering the waste stream and going to landfills. A win for our environment.
We are under no illusion that toxic cleaning chemicals not only affect the employees working with them, affects our air quality, our groundwater, the buildings and our environment.
The introduction of 21st cleaning technologies and methods of cleaning are essential as we move forward in this industry. The use of robots and new technologies will assist us, but we need to eliminate the use of toxic chemicals now and commit to sustainable practices.
Companies committed to sustainable practices will be companies that remain in business as we transition from our Linear economy to a circular model. Many surveys conducted now among consumers say that they will pay more for best sustainable practices and green products. Our millennials and Gen Z are demanding to work for, and support businesses committed to sustainability.
The IPCC report published in August of 2021 states that humanity is “unequivocally to blame for rising temperatures” It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed
the atmosphere, ocean and land”. Stark and bleak words and a warning to us to move forward and adopt the 3 pillars of sustainability in our business practices.
About the author
Adrienne Doolan is the CEO and founder of Green Touches, a services provider of sustainable green cleaning, clean technology products and sustainability reporting in the Middle East.