While green is en vogue now, distributors of the 1970s also joined causes for environmentalism. Anti-litter campaigns, popular in the 1960s, rolled over into the next decade. Earth Day, a popular environmental activist day today, first started in 1970. America was becoming aware of dirty streets and cities and the effect pollution had on the nation. To those in the cleaning industry, this was business as usual, and they promoted themselves as stewards of the environment. ISSA, manufacturers and distributors all took part in “Clean Up the Nation,” “Keep It Clean” and other themed campaigns. 

“We must solve, or at least control, all phases of pollution, which has become so detrimental to our lives,” said then ISSA President Milton A. Zelinkoff, in a 1970 association address.

Environmentalism gained even greater attention thanks to the Energy Crisis in 1974, which also had major impacts on distributors’ businesses. Just like in the 1940s, the industry experienced limited numbers of raw materials. 

According to an ISSA survey, there was a 72 percent cutback in plastics, 54 percent cutback in paper, 16 million pound cotton shortage, and wood and rayon were simply unattainable. These scarce materials caused ridiculous product lead times: it took 30 weeks to get a motor, 50 weeks for a switch. Also, gas shortages made it difficult to make deliveries and salespeople used the phone more and traveled less to connect with customers. 

By the 1970s, distributors were no strangers to Uncle Sam stepping in and telling them how to run their businesses. In the ’40s, it was limits on product manufacturing and whether they could hold a convention; in the ’60s, it was new rules on tax deductions. But the ’70s brought even stricter legislation to the cleaning industry with the creation of OSHA and the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA especially hit the industry hard and suppressed new developments to certain chemicals. 

“OSHA, FDA, EPA and others are taxing our ability to introduce profitable products fast enough. By the time we produce a product to meet the needs brought on by their laws, test it accordingly to their dictates, label it through their channels, manufacture it to our standards and market it through our distributors…it’s obsolete and there’s a new regulation to meet!” said one unnamed manufacturer in a 1976 article. 

ISSA formed an EPA Action Team to help alleviate chemical manufacturers from “unjust” statutes over-regulating disinfectants, sanitizers and pesticides. After two years of lobbying, the association scored a victory with the passage of a new bill alleviating rules for registering products that would have caused a 20-year backlog. 

On the technology side, though the benefits of computers were vast, surveys showed that only a quarter of the distribution industry was adopting electronic data processing. Much more popular technology were pocket calculators for warehouse operations and cassette tapes and accompanying slideshow presentations for sales pitches (one could call it an early form of PowerPoint). 

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1960s: Contract Cleaning Comes Of Age
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