Offering a green cleaning program used to be enough for building service contractors to differentiate themselves in the marketplace, but today the challenge is different. Almost all contractors now have a green program; the challenge is getting to the next step and remaining competitive.

This next step is part of an intentional effort to “create a culture of sustainability” that goes beyond simple costs and efficiency strategies. In this step, contractors need to motivate and inspire employees to innovate and to find hundreds of small ways to truly make a difference.

There is a growing trend in the sustainability movement towards the “3E’s” of creating a culture of sustainability — educate, engage and empower people at all levels throughout the entire organization. This effort is based around a set of values and a vision that can be inspiring and lead to world-class performance.

Posting the organization’s mission statement or company values is relatively easy to do, but the real trick is to get people to actually buy into the values. And even more important is the need to get them to act. Unfortunately in far too many organizations, there are disconnects between what the organization says it stands for, and what it actually does or how it reinforces its commitment on a daily basis.

So while it is incredibly important to do the basics such as using green products and training workers, another simple way to demonstrate the commitment to sustainability is by modifying purchasing policies to address how the organization will spend its money. And the items do not have to be the big-ticket issues such as water or energy. Demonstrate the commitment to sustainability through purchases of green office supplies, copy paper, presentation binders, toner cartridges, furniture, light bulbs, lunch room supplies, uniforms and other items. Most importantly, this can be done without breaking the bank.

Creating a sustainable purchasing policy for internal consumables addresses your organization’s commitment to being a conscientious consumer. Having this policy will make clear to all employees the organization’s intent and values, and what, if any, premium your company is willing to pay for greener, more sustainable products. In many cases even a small premium such as 10 percent can give your purchasing people the guidance they need to buy these products without having to make herculean effort to change the products.

And when it comes to identifying specific product standards, ask your vendors and their competitors for input. These days it is easy to find help whether you are buying from small, locally-owned companies or traditional big box retailers or grocery stores. While the financial impact from your purchase may be small, the message to your employees, coworkers and customers will be loud and clear. And it truly will help make 
a difference.

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