Cleaning & Maintenance Management Online

A New Era Of Sustainability

September 19, 2010

A survey taken in 2009 and released in June 2010 by the United Nations Global Compact found that an unusually high 93 percent of the 750 chief executive officers (CEOs) they interviewed believe that becoming more sustainable is "crucial to their [company''s] future success."

The report, "A New Era of Sustainability," had several other eye-opening results, but unfortunately generated only limited news coverage.

Hopefully, the following will bring these issues to light.

The chief executives surveyed were from 100 countries around the world.

Most of them, 72 percent, said that one reason they are placing greater emphasis on sustainable issues is that it helps them strengthen their brand and, possibly even more important, build trust and foster a positive reputation with consumers and customers.

For me, and I am sure many others in the professional cleaning industry, this is a bit of déjà vu.

As we recall, when the green cleaning movement truly took hold in our industry about five or six years ago, it was our end customers who were the driving force.

They wanted healthier, more environmentally responsible cleaning in their facilities, and our industry heeded their call.

Now, we see something similar evolving regarding sustainability.

The survey also found that more and more companies are taking global warming and greenhouse gas emissions more seriously.

This is a big change from 2007 when a similar survey of CEOs was taken.

At that time, most did not believe climate change was a significant priority but, by 2009, 66 percent said they did believe it was a critical issue.

Another key finding in the report was that operating a business in a more sustainable manner was becoming less viewed as a cost or expense to the company.

Instead, there was widespread agreement that becoming more sustainable adds value to a company and its products, which can help improve their bottom line as well.

Eighty-one percent of the CEOs said their companies have embedded sustainable issues into their overall business strategy and operations — up from just 50 percent in 2007.

Up to this point, many of the findings of the survey were very encouraging for those of us concerned about sustainable issues.

However, even though as many as 91 percent of the CEOs believed sustainability should be embedded through their subsidiaries and 88 percent through their company''s entire supply change, far fewer, around 55 percent, were actually taking steps to make this happen.

The feeling among many of the CEOs was that implementing sustainable practices into their companies'' operations was, at least at this time, complicated.

Ninety-one percent reported they were waiting for new technologies in such areas as renewable energy and energy efficiency to be developed before they would get serious about becoming more sustainable.

Related to this, many of the CEOs are also waiting for "information and communication technologies" to be developed that can help them measure and monitor how sustainable they are.

Although tools and online "dashboards" that fill this need are now available — even one specifically for the professional cleaning industry that can help monitor and measure fuel, energy, water and related data — many businesses are unaware of these systems, how they work or how they can help them.

Typically, these dashboards monitor, analyze and provide data on the following:

  • Fuel, electricity and water use
  • Waste and recycling programs
  • Transportation like service and delivery vehicles, forklifts, etc.
  • Products used in the facility
  • Current data and previous-year information for comparison
  • Evaluations on how well businesses are meeting their sustainability goals.

Looking at the survey overall, although it does indicate there may still be more "talk" than action among the CEOs and their companies, it cannot be denied that sustainable issues are now front and center on the executive-level corporate desks of major companies around the world.

If nothing else, the dramatic increase in concern about climate change, from essentially zero to 61 percent, confirms this.

Without question, should there be a third survey of CEOs on these issues in a couple of years, not only will concerns about sustainability, climate change and greenhouse gas emissions increase again, but I am sure actions helping to alleviate and address these issues will jump significantly as well.

We do not always hear about it, and often it is underreported just like this survey, but businesses around the world are aware and responding to environmental and sustainable issues, and more see it not only as the right thing to do, but the profitable thing to do as well.

Stephen Ashkin is president of The Ashkin Group LLC, a leading green cleaning consulting organization, and Sustainability Dashboard Tools LLC. Sustainability Dashboard Tools is a web-based system that allows cleaning professionals to measure the natural resources their businesses use and the greenhouse gas emissions they generate. Armed with this information, businesses can make commonsense changes that reduce their impact on the environment. Such changes save businesses money and make them more efficient and competitive while also benefiting their facilities, employees and local community as well as the environment.