Environmental technology concept. Sustainable development goals. SDGs.

Across every facet of our lives, sustainability and ecological issues continue to be prevalent as we see increasing signs of the disruption that is being caused to our planet and to all those that live there.

Businesses, staff and customers all have expectations for the actions taken by commercial entities to create a more sustainable form of business. In 2022, IBM research into consumer preferences discovered that half of those surveyed had paid a premium, 59 percent on average, for products that demonstrated sustainable credentials or socially responsible practices.

Cleaning and sustainability intersect in many different ways in processes at facilities, occurring at many different points across the end-to-end cleaning process and are found in all the ways that a business operates.

Beginning to Middle to End

Before a cleaning product even reaches you, it can already come with a significant ecological cost. Natural resources that go into plastic or chemical processes will have an extraction cost that comes with them and in the case of chemical solutions, an environmental cost for disposal after use.

When it comes to sustainable purchasing, the industry will continue to assess a multitude of factors beyond cleaning efficacy.

• Where did the material for this product come from?

• Was it produced with significant care for the environment?

• How durable is this product?

• What does it do for the sustainability of my facility?

• How will I dispose of it in a way that protects resources and the environment?

And when you get really into the sustainability of a product you might add questions like:

• How was this product distributed?

• How is the distributor’s vehicle fleet powered?

• What energy powers its manufacture?

• Do the manufacturers offset their carbon?

• Do they offer end-of-life returns?

The questions to consider can be almost endless because sustainability touches on everything we do.

Sustainability also pulls into the sustainable development of your staff through education programs, ergonomic machinery, CSR responsibilities, waste and sustainability reporting and how to incentivize more sustainable methods of working and commercial practices.

As the cleaning industry progresses through the coming years, we need to be sure that as different entities we can either ask the right questions of our purchases or give the right answers about our products. Whether we serve individual customers or operate B2B, transparency is a key to sustainable success.

What Does it Mean to be Sustainable?

The most traditional definition for a sustainable practice is the one that leaves a net zero impact on planetary resources. That whatever is taken from the natural world is returned at the end of a product’s life or at the culmination of a process.

But is this a practical way of thinking about sustainability? Is it actually possible for human industry to strike this balance with the natural world?

What is certain is that we are currently not meeting that balance, but there are patterns of operation we can implement that will improve the sustainability of what we do.

One of the key areas where products are returned to the natural world is through the shortfall in plastic recycling compared with manufacture and consumption. Oceana estimate that in 2023 we will add 33 billion pounds of plastic to the oceans, plastic that will stay there polluting aquatic life, and humans, for millennia.

Many businesses have begun to look at how they can turn off the tap that’s pouring plastic into the environment. Two key areas are product packaging and end-of-life processes. Whether it’s bottles of cleaning solution, cleaning tools, machines or other cleaning products, 2023 will continue to see innovation in these areas.

End-of-life is still in its infancy, but harnessing reuse over virgin manufacturing is going to create some improvements, while an emphasis on product durability, eliminating multiple cycles of remanufacture, will extend sustainability gains further.

The Commercial in Commercial Sustainability

Beneath all this, the products and the processes, the decisions and the outcomes, there is one consistent consideration, cost. What does a certain action cost environmentally, what does it cost commercially?

With the changing social and financial landscape in countries across Europe and the world, we will see increased tension between price, hygiene and sustainability. Particularly in areas where there is a perception that to be more sustainable requires paying more for products that are less effective. How purchasers and manufacturers balance these three elements will evolve as the year goes on:

• In cases where a more sustainable cleaning product costs more than its polluting alternative, what should a purchaser or a facility manager prefer?

• Likewise, if you expect (or have experience) that a greener product does not perform as well, should you buy the less sustainable product?

• Does buying a greater volume of a more sustainable product lessen its credentials?

As with many industries, the cleaning industry needs to have an engaging and open discourse about what sustainability in commercial cleaning looks like, what’s important and how we balance the needs of hygiene, cost and sustainability so that our businesses thrive, our customers are confident and our staff and the people of the world, are taken care of.

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A Look Ahead at the Cleaning Industry
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Commercial Cleaning is a People Business