By Stephen Ashkin

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

Green buildings and green cleaning continue to accelerate in the marketplace, creating increasing opportunities for contractors. Interestingly, when the green movement began, the issue simply revolved around recycling and the use of recycled products. The movement evolved to pollution prevention and the use of less toxic products such as cleaning chemicals, paints, adhesives and other building materials.

The new issue for our customers focuses on energy efficiency and alternative energy sources due to concerns relating to global climate change and the use of foreign oil. And the next step along this journey is predicted to be water efficiency and conservation. Savvy and sustainable building service contractors will find it in their best interest to be ahead of the curve.

As a cleaning contractor, what can you do?

The first step is to become educated and discuss the issue with vendors. Ask what new products they offer that can reduce water use. And become educated enough to discuss the issue with your customers. While the amount of water used during cleaning is small compared to other building uses, it is still important and customers will be impressed when you are contributing to their conservation efforts.

Next consider your products and equipment. Manufacturers are taking green cleaning seriously and increasing their R&D spending on greener technologies. Today equipment for carpet extraction and floor scrubbing can significantly reduce water usage, and new machines can strip floor finish without using stripping solution and only minimal amounts of water. And consider evaluating other technologies such as steam and vapor machines that also reduce the amount of water used during cleaning.

Other opportunities include the cleaning processes themselves. Consider where large quantities of water are used, as these are opportunities for reduction. For example, replace traditional string mops with microfiber flat mops, which can reduce water consumption. Or change processes to minimize flood rinsing.

And work with your customers to consider the actual specifications. For example, modifying a contract that requires carpets to be extracted four times a year (whether needed or not) to a reduced frequency even in some portions of the building can save significant quantities of water. This same thinking can be applied to numerous activities such as cleaning restrooms, carpet and floor care and exterior maintenance where frequencies are specified without consideration of performance requirements.

The growing challenge that contractors face with green cleaning is everyone “gets” the basics such as certified chemicals and vacuums, recycled paper products, etc. Understanding emerging issues such as water use and conservation can help you succeed by making you a more valuable resource than your competitor.