Are end users interested in jan/san distributors’ sustainable initiatives?

According to a 2014 Sanitary Maintenance sustainability survey, the answer is, for the most part, no. But that’s expected to change over the next few years.

Nearly 70 percent of distributor respondents say customers currently don’t ask them about their sustainable initiatives.

Stephen Ashkin, president of The Ashkin Group and CEO of Sustainability Dashboard Tools in Bloomington, Ind., is not surprised.

“I’m actually surprised that 30 percent said their customers are asking them for that information,” says Ashkin.

Getting customers to buy green products has traditionally been the first step toward interest in sustainability, says Ashkin. According to the SM survey, this goal still has a long way to go. For a majority of distributors, less than 25 percent of customers purchase green products.

With the underwhelming number of green purchases, it’s not surprising that customers don’t ask their distributors about sustainable initiatives.

“A lot of end users don’t really understand what sustainability is,” says Ashkin. “They don’t understand what sustainability means to their own organization. Even less so, understand what it means to their supplier. As a result, they’re not asking distributors of cleaning products about their sustainability initiatives.”

Nonetheless, Ashkin says, “We’re getting there.”

More than half of survey respondents believe more customers will ask about their distributors’ sustainable initiatives in the next five years.

“A supplier that is focused more on sustainability and becoming more efficient will make them a more viable, more cost-effective supplier over the long run,” says Ashkin. “As we do a better job articulating that message, it will just become good business for purchasers to want to know what efforts their suppliers are making in these areas.”

Sustainable initiatives not only benefit the environment and help reduce a distributor’s operating costs, but in today’s market can also give distributors a competitive advantage.

“From a distributor point of view, I think we can get over the idea that it’s a fad — it’s not going away,” says Bill McGarvey, director of training and sustainability at Philip Rosenau Co. Inc. in Warminster, Pa. “Even over the past few years with the economic struggles that we’ve had, people were still asking and pursuing sustainability because it does talk to the bottom line. Some initiatives cost money, but most of them do offer a payback.”

Even though customers aren’t currently asking about sustainability, distributors believe that time is coming, and a majority — about 60 percent — plan to increase their sustainability efforts in the next five years to meet future demand.

“Sustainability is an enormous way to improve the profitability of a distributor,” Ashkin says. “That’s why I have so much confidence that our industry, the nation and the world is heading in the right direction. It’s good for the environment, and whether someone is a tree hugger or just trying to maximize their profits, it’s smart business.”

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