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Becoming More Sustainable

February 24, 2011
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Green and sustainable are buzzwords that are tossed around a lot — especially as of late.

If you have read a magazine, watched a newscast or overheard a conversation at your local coffee shop in the past several months, you likely received a healthy dose of environmentally-preferable verbiage.

When asked what they are doing to make their operations more sustainable and to reduce their carbon footprints, several building service contractors (BSCs) and in-house service providers were quick to offer insight.

Below are excerpts from some of those custodial professionals.

According to Fred May of Brothers Cleaning Services Inc., his company has done a lot over the past 3-4 years, including:

  • Replacing conventional cleaning chemicals with newer Green Seal or other third-party certified chemicals

  • Offering green floor finishes and strippers to our customers

  • Recycling spent bulbs and tubes for our customers

  • Allowing employees to bring expended compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs from home to recycle

  • Recycling batteries from customers'' dispensers and employees'' homes

  • Using 100 percent recycled paper in our office photocopier

  • Replacing cotton mop heads and cloths with microfiber

  • Turning off lights at accounts

  • Recycling of cardboard, paper, plastic and glass in our offices

  • Loosening tubes in our overhead fixtures to save energy

  • Installing dilution stations at our accounts to ensure a proper chemical to water ratio.

Living sustainably is a journey, not a destination — and Brothers Cleaning Services Inc. is off to a good start.

Cheyne Brokate of Brokate Janitorial Service said: "We have done many things similar to May. In addition, our office electrical breakers are all shut off at the end of the workday to prevent any waste, which has lowered our electric bill substantially. We have made a big effort to use as many ‘green'' chemicals as possible and recycled paper products. While we''re not a full fledged ‘green'' company, we work very hard to limit waste wherever possible while still providing our customers with the best, healthiest cleaning that we can."

Stephen Ashkin of The Ashkin Group LLC, who is well-known throughout the professional cleaning industry as the "father of green cleaning," had some insight to share.

"I think all companies are doing things that would qualify as sustainable activities since when we reduce consumption and waste — and when we become more efficient — companies are becoming more profitable in addition to the environmental benefits," states Ashkin.

According to Ashkin, the biggest challenge that he sees is that most companies fall to really measure, track and report on their accomplishments.

"So, when we decide that energy reduction is good from a sustainability and financial perspective, we fail to document what we have actually accomplished," notes Ashkin.

Not only do we often fail to capture the data, but we often fail to set goals for further reductions, which from a business perspective is what we really need to do to become successful.

And, of course, this is true whether we set sales and profit goals or goals for reducing energy, water, waste, transportation and other issues as indicators of sustainability.

"Another shortcoming that I see is that most companies are simply looking for a list of things they can do, such as retrofit lighting. But, seldom are they using a comprehensive framework to guide their efforts. One such example — and the best one in my opinion — is the framework from the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI)," adds Ashkin.

Not only does this help companies get a broader idea of opportunities, but in the end they will be asked to report on their sustainability efforts to their customers — making using the GRI very helpful.

This issue is evolving very quickly and it will be interesting to see how our industry responds.

For some, sustainability is not a priority.

Joel Daniel of Premier Service Company had the following opinion: "Irrespective of what government mandates and corporations responding to government do, I still tend to think of the green movement — and any other popular phrase attached to it — as scratching out a clean spot in a landfill.

To date, the only benefits of going green that Daniel has been able to identify are lower costs associated with more energy efficiency — but at what cost to achieve it?

According to Dale Muckerman of the University of Missouri, in addition to the items listed by May, an in-house operation can:

  • Use a chemical dispensing system, which will decrease both wasted water and chemicals

  • Use roll towels instead of flat towels in restrooms, which will decrease the pounds of paper used in the facility

  • Use automatic roll towel dispensers to further decrease the amount of paper used in the restroom

  • Use coreless toilet tissue — this does not decrease amount of toilet tissue used but decreases shipping and packaging costs and will help save custodians time

  • Use good floor mats because if the soil is captured at the door, less chemicals and energy are used than if the soil is walked into the building

  • Use a good microfiber mopping system that will decrease water and chemical consumption. The fact that microfiber can be laundered hundreds of times adds to its sustainability.

Using microfiber rags can also result in fewer chemicals being required.

"I also feel that using more advanced cleaning technologies is often also a step toward sustainability. A rider scrubber that gets the job done in a fraction of the time reduces chemical and water usage. Getting the job done faster can also mean the building lights can be turned off sooner," proclaims Muckerman.

According to Muckerman, there is often too much emphasis on using green chemicals but not enough emphasis on learning to use less chemical, less water, less paper, fewer mops, etc.

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