One of the biggest problems that the commoditization of cleaning has perpetuated is that it encourages the purchasing of cheap, low-end equipment. Vacuums are in a different price and quality category from larger equipment such as rider scrubbers; it’s almost as if vacuums are viewed as disposable, Ashkin says.

Environmental costs are usually higher for low-end products that aren’t made to withstand the demanding workload of a large custodial department. Vacuums that last longer inherently have less of an environmental impact, Ashkin says.

“Durability isn’t just a cost issue — it really has significant environmental impacts,” he adds.

Eric Cadell, vice president of operations at Dutch Hollow Supplies, a distributor in Belleville, Ill., encourages managers to shop for quality, durable vacuum cleaners.

“One of the only truly sustainable ways to deal with vacuums is to keep them out of landfills,” he says. “Get out of that $100 range and invest in one that is $300 to $400. Buying a new low-end vacuum every two months is more expensive in the long run than buying one nice high-end vacuum that lasts that entire year. And you’re keeping machines out of the landfill.”

It does typically cost more to purchase machines of better quality and durability, but that’s not news to facility managers; return on investment should be taken into consideration when making any purchase, says Renae Hesselink, vice president of sustainability at Nichols, a distributor in Spring Lake, Mich.

“We need to get past only considering the initial cost of equipment when evaluating the purchase of vacuums and take into consideration the entire cost to purchase, maintain and for performance,” she says. A good preventative maintenance program that includes proper care and cleaning of the equipment itself will also help to cut down on future repair costs.

Sustainable Vacuum Parts

While some vacuum parts may be made of recycled materials, vacuum bags and filters typically are not considered sustainable. However, a few bag manufacturers do make green lines that are more biodegradable in landfills, Cadell says. It could also be considered more sustainable to purchase bagless vacuum cleaners with adequate HEPA filtration, he adds.

Some add-ons available on all or most vacuums can save managers a lot of maintenance headaches (and replacement parts).

“I would recommend that every single vacuum a manager buys has a magnet bar on it, to pick up the paper clips and staples that can do a lot of damage to the equipment,” Cadell says. “That is one way to help extend the life of beater bars and belts, and even increase the life of bags.”

When it comes to belts, wands, tools, switches and other parts, it’s likely that, at some point, one or more of them will break or wear down and need replacement. The availability of replacement parts should also be considered before buying a vacuum, Ashkin says.

“The reality is, for most departments, workers are out there cleaning every single day, so a piece of equipment really can’t be down for very long,” he says.

Lastly, it’s important for managers to educate and train their employees about the importance of proper use and maintenance of equipment, Farmer says.

“If sustainability is a goal, equipment maintenance and proper training should be a top priority in the cleaning program,” she says. “Equipment that is used correctly and properly maintained by the custodial staff will last longer and not only meet the goals of a green cleaning program, but save money.”

Drive Demand

With the number of LEED-certified facilities growing, and an increasing interest in CIMS certification, knowing what makes equipment sustainable is more important than ever. Managers have the power to drive demand for recycled materials, Hesselink says.

“If we create demand for recycled materials — plastics for example — we create a demand for more recycled plastic that gets the attention of the waste providers and haulers. They then seek out more sources and encourage recycling with their customers,” she says.

The recent collapse of the garment factory in Bangladesh was a tragic reminder that manufacturing takes place in a global marketplace, and that purchasers may not always be aware of where their products are coming from and who is making them, Ashkin says. Just asking distributors and manufacturers certain questions — how they substantiate their claims, what their end-of-life program is, where their equipment is made, who makes their equipment and the parts used, and whether they have a sustainability report — can put those issues on the radar if they’re not already there.

“What is important is that we have to ask. If the customer doesn’t ask, the message to the manufacturer is that the customer doesn’t care,” Ashkin says. “Questions like that can drive the transformation of the entire sector.” 

LISA RIDGELY is a freelance writer based in Milwaukee. She is the former Deputy Editor of Contracting Profits magazine, a sister publication to Facility Cleaning Decisions.

previous page of this article:
Tips To Purchasing Sustainable Vacuums