COVID-19’s Impact on Sustainability

Organizations committed to sustainability and their people will survive and prosper


The challenges of COVID-19 will forever change the cleaning industry. Fortunately, our destiny is in our own hands.

Now is the time to redefine who we are as an industry and rethink how we clean buildings to protect occupant health. Hopefully, we can strategically address the three basic pillars of sustainability: profits, people, and planet.

How does COVID-19 affect sustainability?

What makes sustainable cleaning different from green cleaning is its focus on the ethical treatment of workers. The pandemic highlights the importance of proper training and processes for cleaning personnel as their work is critical in helping to keep facilities safe from infectious pathogens. It also underscores the need to protect our front-line workers, making sure they are not overworked and have the right supplies and personal protective equipment to stay healthy while they perform their job. These concerns extend not only to in-house service providers, but also to contract workers.

Our customer base is changing

Another predicted result of COVID-19 is the demise of many small businesses as consumers increasingly turn to online retailers and big box stores, which are more likely to have the resources to adapt to the new reality and can offer online, in-store, and curbside pickup.

The need for commercial real estate space will shrink as more people work from home. Schools and universities will offer more online classes and have less students in brick and mortar classrooms, which will adversely impact companies focused on servicing these sectors. Sports, entertainment, and movie venues may only see partial reentry for months to come. These changes tie into sustainability as the economic recovery picks up because the cleaning customers that will survive and thrive are the big guys who have the resources and expertise to address the pandemic and adjust to the new reality. These customers also understand and have a growing interest in sustainability.

Rethinking our customer focus

According to the G&A Institute, more than 85% of Standard & Poor’s 500 companies are now publishing sustainability reports because they understand how important it is to their bottom-line and investors. It also will help to reduce risks within their supply chains, including their suppliers of cleaning products.

Organizations committed to sustainability, and to the well-being of people, will survive and prosper in light of COVID-19. Thus, these organizations should be the targets of future business strategies. To sell these organizations we must not only “talk the talk,” but “walk the talk” by developing a sustainability program and addressing the commitment to our profits, people, and planet. In the end, sustainability is a good strategy for the cleaning industry and one that will not only outlast COVID-19, but also make us stronger.

Stephen Ashkin

President, The Ashkin Group

Stephen P. Ashkin is president of The Ashkin Group, a consulting firm specializing in green cleaning and sustainability. He can be reached at

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COVID-19’s Impact on Sustainability
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