In the early days of the green movement, companies often explained that the reason they undertook "green" initiatives was because it was the "right thing to do." Rarely did these companies talk about the business reasons for going green. Today this is changing.

The change we are seeing now has little to do with a change in economics. Reducing energy or water consumption saved money in the past, just as it does today. Reducing fuel used by delivery, service, sales and other vehicles saved money in the past, just as it does today. The same is true for reducing waste and the unnecessary use of products and materials. So the change is that we now do a much better job articulating the economic impacts of these environmental initiatives and have learned the language that allows us to uniformly discuss it.

As a result, organizations are focusing on sustainability as a way to improve their profitability. As Wal-Mart's chairman Lee Scott has stated, "Efforts in recent years to adopt renewable energy and supply chain sustainability initiatives is more about the bottom line than it is about image."

Frankly, sustainability is simply seen as a good business practice and it appears that this trend will only continue. For example, a recent poll conducted by the public relations firm Gibbs & Soell of Fortune 1,000 executives found that 75 percent of executives say that their company has people responsible for sustainability or "going green" initiatives, up from 69 percent in 2010. More companies are embracing sustainable initiatives because it gives them a competitive advantage in the marketplace

Major organizations and entities, including our federal government, are increasingly requiring their suppliers to provide specific information on their environmental impacts, typically referred to as "scorecards." While Wal-Mart was a pioneer of such an effort, more companies — even those in the cleaning industry — are following suit.

So the question for building service contractors is: Why would these sustainable companies buy your services? These companies not only will hire BSCs for their green cleaning programs, but also for their internal efforts to become sustainable. Your customers are realizing that partnering with sustainable vendors means they are working with companies that waste less, are more efficient, more profitable and able to withstand the challenging economic climate that is currently being faced.

Remember this is not about trying to become sustainable because it is the "right thing to do." Rather, it is about business. Contractors who reduce their own consumption of energy, water and waste in their internal operations can offer their service at a more competitive price. And contractors who offer a green cleaning program that reduces the consumption of cleaning products, water and energy used while cleaning also help customers save money.

What is important for contractors to understand is that developing a sustainability program and the associated information tracking and reporting is becoming easier thanks to the work of major organizations like Wal-Mart.

Sustainability is still about "doing the right thing," but it also means doing the "right thing" profitably.

Stephen Ashkin is president of The Ashkin Group and executive director of the Green Cleaning Network. He can be reached at