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During the COVID-19 pandemic, green and sustainable initiatives took a backseat to infection prevention. The focus instead was on chemicals and dramatic increases in disinfecting and sanitizing frequencies. Since that time, building service contractors who had previously standardized the use of green-certified products have struggled to communicate their benefits to clients who were clearly focusing their attention elsewhere.

The result is a disconnect between contractors and their facility executive customers on the importance of sustainability, as well as environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) as it relates to cleaning. To set the record straight on both what customers want from their cleaning contractors and what BSCs are willing to offer, Contracting Profits magazine in conjunction with Building Service Contractors Association International (BSCAI) conducted a survey on the topic. The results help clear up some of the confusion, which seems to be more of a lack of communication than anything else.

For example, on the topic of whether cleaning contractors should automatically be using green-certified products while cleaning a facility (without being asked): 40 percent of BSCs believe facility customers expect this, but the survey revealed it's an expectation of 70 percent of facility executives. The only good news here is that the expectations line up with current offerings — 71 percent of BSCs are using green-certified products regardless of requests to do so.

This presents BSCs with an opportunity to have a conversation with customers to discuss offerings and expectations. Currently, a third of the facility executives surveyed were unsure whether their contractor offered green/sustainability services, much less were using these products or implementing processes. But if given the option, 84 percent of executives say they would choose to have facilities cleaned with green-certified products.

Unfortunately, talk is cheap, and the lack of financial support could be a big reason why BSCs are inconsistent with the promotion of green-certified product usage. According to the survey, not even two thirds of facility executives are willing to pay extra for these sustainable efforts. In fact, almost half of facility executives still prioritize overall contract price over sustainability or even infection control efforts when considering a bid.

As bad as that might sound, that reality is a bit better than what many BSCs think. According to the survey, 84 percent of contractors believe their customers prioritize a competitive bid over sustainability or infection prevention programs, versus the 48-percent reality.

Disconnects between building service contractors and their facility executive customers extend beyond product use into overall sustainable and ESG offerings. The survey found that facility executive customers not only want their cleaning contractors to use green-certified products, they also expect BSCs to provide programs that will support sustainability and ESG initiatives. Unfortunately, less than half of contractors actively promote those offerings that help support such initiatives. For the others, this is a missed opportunity because the bulk of facility executives include custodial programs as part of their overall sustainability plans for the facility.

When it comes to ESG goals, specifically, it seems facility executives are good on their word. Almost three quarters of those surveyed are willing to pay higher contract fees if it means better compensation for the frontline cleaning workers tending to the facility. A respectable two thirds will also increase their spend if their BSC incorporates products and equipment that support overall sustainable facility goals.

Again, here's a situation where reality is better than perception. Sixty-eight percent of BSCs who were asked if clients would pay more to properly compensate frontline workers believed it would never happen. BSCs were also skeptical on whether clients would pay more for the use of products and equipment that contribute to facility sustainability — 78 percent believe they would not.

It seems communication is key and the more transparent BSCs are with their facility executive customers, the better off both parties will be. Support bids and/or price increases by outlining professional credentials (77 percent of facility managers prefer certified BSCs), provide comprehensive documentation of what green products and sustainable processes are used, and showcase the fair treatment of staff. It behooves BSCs to also work with clients to set up quarterly, bi-annual or annual meetings to discuss how cleaning programs can contribute to the overall facility initiatives.

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Survey Outlines BSC/Facility Sustainability and ESG Goals