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This past Halloween, Mother Nature played a big trick on all of us. Hurricane Sandy pounded the East Coast, killing more than 100 people and causing billions of dollars worth of property damage. And this “once-in-a-hundred-years storm” was the second such storm in just the past year.

Skeptics argue that mankind’s actions have nothing to do with climate change, but with hurricanes like Sandy and Irene, or other extreme weather events such as droughts in the Midwest and Southwest, doubters are increasingly in the minority.

Today, 98 percent of climatologists from around the world believe that the Earth’s climate system is unequivocally warming, and they are more than 90 percent certain that humans are causing it through activities that increase concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, such as the burning of fossil fuels used to power our buildings, vehicles and processes.

The following are some actions that leaders in the cleaning industry can take to address climate change:

Preparedness: Extreme weather events are expected to become more common and more intense. Prepare your own emergency response plan. Prioritize your customers, consider their value to your company as well as the vulnerability of the occupants in the buildings you clean.

Also include plans for when storms, tornados, fires and other weather-related events are approaching. For example in a flood zone you may want to move equipment out of a basement onto higher floors to reduce the risk of water damage.

Don’t forget that the real issue you may deal with will be your people and their inability to get to work sites and back to their homes. So have plans in place for worker and supervisor shortages, and how you will communicate with them. Be proactive and protect their health and safety — your business will depend on it.

Reduce Process Electricity Use: Our cleaning processes consume electricity and its production is powered by the burning of carbon emitting fossil fuels. Instead, clean with cold water and use more modern chemistries and other technologies that no longer require heat to be effective.

When purchasing new electric-powered equipment, ask the manufacturer about motor efficiency, as well as electricity consumption during use and recharging of battery powered equipment. These small things add up, and customers will appreciate it as you are consuming their electricity, at their expense.

Reduce Electricity Use In Your Facility: Install more efficient lighting and make sure that lights, computers, printers, coffee pots, vending machines and other electrical devices are turned off when not in use, especially over nights and weekends.

Improve Transportation: To reduce mileage and fuel consumption, make sure all company vehicles are well maintained and plan more efficient customer routes. When purchasing or leasing new vehicles, look for those with high mileage ratings.

Keep your workers in mind, as a significant portion of your carbon footprint results from their transportation. Help them by coordinating carpooling and ridesharing, as well as encouraging public transportation when practical. While these efforts will reduce environmental impacts, they also help lower-paid employees who pay a larger portion of their income getting to and from the work site.

Regrettably, I believe that climate change is real and extreme weather events will become more intense and common. As an industry we should do our part to mitigate the risks. It is not only the “right thing to do,” but it is good business as well.


Stephen Ashkin is the president of The Ashkin Group, executive director of the Green Cleaning Network, cofounder of Green Cleaning University and CEO of Sustainability Dashboard Tools LLC — all of which play important roles in his efforts to move the global cleaning industry from green to sustainable. He can be reached at ashkin@tradepress.com.