today, it's pretty easy to be green, especially for cleaning contractors. Products work and are cost competitive, and programs such as the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) and the Healthy Schools Campaign’s Quick & Easy Guide to Green Cleaning in Schools have eliminated much of the confusion about what constitutes a green cleaning program.

And, more janitorial-supply distributors are making it easy for contractors to be green. The challenge is finding one with real expertise on green that can meet your supply, startup, implementation, procedures, sales, marketing, communications and other needs.

When selecting a green distributor, there are key questions to ask to find the right one. The following are my top five:

  1. Who else are they doing it for? If they are just learning themselves and you know this, then it’s fine to learn together. However, if you are expecting to benefit from their experience, ask them for a list of their other green customers and check their references.

  2. Do they sell certified chemicals and equipment? Most distributors carry one, or more lines of certified products. Using certified products makes your job easier from a purchasing perspective, as well as for your salespeople who will have to explain to customers why and how your program is green.

  3. What is the extent of their green products and do they stock them? Some distributors stock only a limited amount of green products. So if you are going to rely upon them, make sure they carry everything you need — green chemicals, paper, equipment, filters, microfiber products and more. Being out of stock can kill your business.

  4. Are they familiar with USGBC? If your potential green distributor claims to be an expert on green, then surely they are knowledgeable about the USGBC. So inquire about their knowledge and their level of participation as this could be very valuable to some of your current customers and future prospects.

  5. How can they help communicate the benefits to your customers and building occupants? Some distributors can help you with customized signage, stickers for restroom mirrors, newsletters, press releases and more to help you be a greater asset to your customers and grow your business.

You may find more distributors than ever are able to meet your green needs, as many of their suppliers have developed programs and answered these questions as well.

In addition to determining if they have the right stuff, make sure that potential distributors have the time and interest to invest into your business, so together you can translate this opportunity into real business success.

Stephen Ashkin is president of The Ashkin Group, a nationally renowned consulting firm helping both contractors and building owners “green” the cleaning process.