Greening operations and improving sustainability have a bright shiny future in the housekeeping and contract cleaning markets with the majority of cleaning professionals saying they’re already using green cleaning products and plan to add more.

When Contracting Profits (a sister publication of Sanitary Maintenance) asked building service contractors if they use green cleaning products, 79 percent said they did. When Housekeeping Solutions (another SM sister publication) surveyed its readership, it found 81 percent of custodial managers say they do whatever they can to incorporate green products into their cleaning programs.

Both groups cited the top products in use as microfiber, glass cleaners, multi-surface cleaners and restroom cleaners, leaving a whole host of categories such as soaps and hand sanitizers, mats and cleaning equipment with room to grow.

There’s definitely room for improvement in green sales for jan/san distributors, according to Steve Ashkin, president of Bloomington, Ind.-based The Ashkin Group, who says that while 90 percent of companies currently tackle green activities, few view it as a serious undertaking.

“Only 15 percent of customers are really eco-conscious and willing to go green at any cost,” he explains. “The vast majority are aware of green products but are only willing to go green if there’s no cost, no pain and no effort for them.”

All is not lost in this attitude; however, as Ashkin explains companies looking to quickly green operations often perceive green cleaning as the “low hanging fruit.” This spells opportunity for distributors to increase market share and protect existing business.

“Distributors need to understand green because the distributor down the street may already be actively promoting green programs,” Ashkin says.

First Things First

It’s important to do your homework before taking on a green push, Ashkin says.

Companies must first take stock of what green products and services they currently offer. Then they must decide what type of green program they want. Are they going to offer a comprehensive program with green offerings in every product category from chemicals to paper and equipment to trash liners? Or will they just sell a select number of green products?

“There is a different marketing strategy for each type of program and each requires sales reps to be trained differently,” Ashkin says.

While a selective product program only requires companies to train sales reps in a few products, a comprehensive program requires a thorough understanding of the products offered, how they work and the training customers need. In addition, sales representatives can’t sell green without some familiarity with the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED for Existing Buildings rating system, the Green Guide for Healthcare, or Green Globe.

“Otherwise they are just selling products,” Ashkin says.

This strategy vastly differs from the one that exists among many distributors today, adds Ryan Banks, vice president of sales and marketing at Brady Industries, a Las Vegas-based jan/san distributor.

He explains many customers currently utilize green products but did not realize when they swapped out their traditional products for the latest and greatest product offerings that the products were green.

“I see a lot of green products going out to customers but the customers themselves don’t realize they’re green,” Banks says. “Distributors need to do a better job of communicating that products are green.”

Build A Case For Green

Strong-arming clients into a green program isn’t the route to take, advises Jeannie Murphy, president of Murphy Sanitary Supply, a Broken Arrow, Okla.-based distributor. Distributors need to help clients pinpoint the right products for their individual operations.

“I help people buy, instead of sell people on a product,” she says.

Murphy and other distributors have begun using a consultative selling approach to sell products. For example, Brady Industries recently implemented Go Green, a comprehensive green program co-written with Ashkin. The company implemented Go Green after discovering many customers were using environmentally preferred products but hadn’t documented the changes.

Go Green helps customers identify sustainability practices already in place and pinpoint areas for improvement. The 10-step program helps clients develop goals for their green cleaning program; assemble a team to develop, implement and promote these objectives; develop green procedures; and find products that meet the objectives of the green plan.

Facility assessments are another tool that helps sales reps collect information on the products and equipment customers currently use to clean and how and why they use those tools. The assessments — which most distributors offer free of charge to their clients — consider population sensitivities, such as asthma or other health conditions, as well as work loading issues, and evaluate the facility’s overall cleanliness.

“We look at the chemicals in the custodial closet. We look at the equipment, the type and its condition. We also look at the cleanliness of the building and look for problem areas,” says Teresa Farmer, LEED-AP and sustainability consultant for Kelsan Inc., a Knoxville, Tenn.-based distributor.

Ashkin says it’s also important to observe workers as they perform cleaning functions to see where training deficiencies might lie. And he recommends taking pictures of products, equipment and cleaners at work to support findings.

These assessments identify hot spots for improvement, equipment or chemical changes, says Ashkin. He recommends preparing a short, concise summary of the audit’s findings.

“You don’t have to provide a 50-page report. Customers are not going to read it,” he says. “You need to provide a two- or three-page executive summary listing improvements that can be made and the benefits these improvements can bring.”

The suggested improvements might include statements that say the operation could save money by replacing ready-to-use products with concentrates because it would reduce chemical consumption by 50 percent or reduce paper costs by 30 percent by switching from multifold hand towels to large rolls. The key is to make each statement specific and show the benefits (saving money, improving safety, etc.) of any recommended change, says Ashkin.

Ronnie Garrett is a freelance writer based in Fort Atkinson, Wis.