The most important thing to understand about sustainability is that it is not the same as green cleaning. Green cleaning is a component of sustainability, but sustainability is much larger than green cleaning and goes far beyond the selection, use and disposal of cleaning products.

While green cleaning is about reducing the health and environmental impacts of the products and processes, sustainability is how the business itself operates, including its facilities and vehicles, as well as its impacts on its workers and the communities where they operate, with a goal of having a financially viable business that will last for generations to come, too.

Thus, building service contractors should think about sustainability similarly to succession planning so the company can last for generations. 

There are several frameworks that building service contractors can consider such as the Global Reporting Initiative. Taking time to understand what the framework is, including its various components, could be very helpful as even a basic understanding could be valuable when talking to prospects that are themselves headed down that path.

An even more simplistic starting point can be framed around people, planet and profits.

People: Building service contractors should evaluate if their people are leaving, and if so, determine why. While some turnover is inevitable, far too often good people leave because they simply aren’t making enough money. This may be due to the hourly wage, lack of hours, wasted hours (i.e. transportation to and from work, and between assignments), lack of benefits, lack of advancement opportunity, and how the work itself is affecting their personal health, including exposure to hazardous products and poor ergonomics.

In the end, people are looking for the same kind of sustainability as the business. They want to have financial security as they raise and care for their families, and plan for their own retirement. Because good people are hard to find and retain, building service contractors need to address these people issues as part of their sustainability and succession planning.

Some of the things that will also be helpful is being prepared to explain to prospects and customers how these issues are being addressed. For example, can the company report on issues such as diversity, hiring people with disabilities, pay and retention? Reporting on these issues can set companies apart and give them a competitive advantage especially for client prospects that are doing their own reporting on these issues.

Planet: Building service contractors should be using green cleaning products, which reduce both environmental and health impacts compared to similar products used for the same purpose. BSCs should follow the guidelines for green cleaning specific to the sector. For example, when selling to an organization committed to using the LEED Rating Systems, contractors should follow the requirements in LEED. The same is true for selling schools, universities, health care and other sectors for which there are green building programs for each.

Beyond the products, building service contractors should consider how they operate their own offices. Contractors should be prepared to report on their own building’s energy and water consumption, along with waste minimization efforts and diversion rates. 

In addition, BSCs should consider transportation issues, especially for their vehicles. This does not have to be complex and can be limited to calculating individual vehicle fuel efficiency and the average miles per gallon of all vehicles. Additionally, contractors should consider programs to address the transportation for workers. Subsidizing public transportation to and from work, or organizing ride-sharing, have real environmental benefits and contribute to the sustainability story the company can tell.

Profits: To the issue of profits, the savings generated by all of the efforts to protect people and the planet are a great story to tell. For example, there are real savings to be had by operating offices more efficiently. Purchasing energy efficient computers, lighting and other electronic devices can save money. 

Addressing water use, as well as waste both through better purchasing as well as disposal, will have monetary impacts. Even though water is cheap and recycling rebates are limited, both stories are rich and valued by customers.

The sustainability story should also include the financial benefits for hiring practices and the retention of workers. This information makes another compelling story and, in the end, this is how to succeed, now and long into the future.

Earth Day is right around the corner on April 22. This is a great opportunity for BSCs to share their sustainability stories with employees, customers and vendors. To be ready to tell the story, start compiling the needed information now, or begin investigating what new sustainable initiatives to undertake in 2019. 

Steve Ashkin is the president of The Ashkin Group, LLC, a nationally renowned consulting firm helping both contractors and building owners 'green' the cleaning process. He has 25 years in the cleaning industry and has become the leading figure in the green cleaning movement. 


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Why BSCs Should Embrace Sustainability