In this age of green cleaning, end users want to partner with vendors who back up the environmentally responsible message with sustainable actions. But for Phoenix-based Maintenance Mart, customers don't have to ask for proof of how the jan/san distributor "walks the green walk;" president Shelley Riley and her team have been preaching their efforts since the company's beginning in 1996.

Before distribution, Riley worked in the industry for a contract cleaner. In 1993 the company acquired the jan/san firm Easy Janitor but used it solely for internal purchasing. Then, three years later, recognizing the potential for newfound success while also excited by the challenge, Riley reopened Easy Janitor to the public and rebranded it as Maintenance Mart. She later bought the company in 2002 and became president.

Because of Riley's passion for green, Maintenance Mart has always been on the forefront of sustainability, starting with its impressive internal recycling program. Desk side trashes consist of only a recycled container because 95 percent of what is thrown out is actually recyclable. It's examples like this that earned Maintenance Mart the 2010 Minority Enterprise Development Week Green Firm of the Year and the 2010 Gary L. Trujillo Minority Enterprise award from the Arizona State University W.P. Carey School of Business.

Q: What prompted you to embrace sustainability?

A: I believe that in all areas of my life you have to do things with integrity and giving back, like doing the right thing, is very important. I try to set an example for our team, which also trickles down.

Q: What are some of your internal sustainable initiatives?

A: We recycle pallets for our customers. One of the comments we get all the time is we drop off these huge orders, but then pallets are left behind. So any customer that contacts us and says they have pallets left on their dock we will pick them up and take them to a recycler.

We also recycle copper from cords in our equipment repair department. If a cord has to be changed out, for a whole month we'll keep barrels of used cords and motors for the motor winding, which are also copper. We take them to a copper recycler who'll buy the copper from us. We also do the same thing with equipment that a customer chooses to leave here because its no longer usable and they want us to destroy it for them. We'll recycle the parts that we can and reuse them on other equipment. And the bad stuff, like the steel and plastic, we'll remove and take them to a recycler.

We also make night deliveries two weeks out of the month so that our trucks are not stuck in traffic, not polluting the air. We actually get more deliveries done at night because we don't require dock appointments.

Q: Do you think sustainability is the next trend in the cleaning industry?

A: I do. We see it and hear about it every single day from our customers. I think people care. There are more articles, more news stories about sustainability, more now than ever. It's kind of in everybody's face. They don't have a choice but to listen to it so I think that people are starting to care more about the earth.

Q: Why should distributors get involved with sustainability?

A: It's the right thing to do. You could be a leader and set an example for your customers if they're not already on board. Any time I tell my story with what we've done for all these years with recycling and giving back, it's a huge marketing advantage for us over our competitors.

Q: How can you help improve customers' own green and sustainable operations?

A: Because of the products that we sell, we'll do an assessment for the cleaning companies at their specific properties. We'll take a look at and make a list of all the products they're using and help convert them over to green products. Not only from a cleaning standpoint, but also on the consumables standpoint. Even before buildings started getting LEED certified, we started promoting switching people from folded towels to roll towels, standard toilet tissue to coreless toilet tissue, and traditional bulk soap to foam soap.

Q: What's next in terms of sustainability for Maintenance Mart?

A: We are consciously working at reducing our carbon footprint and that of our customers'. By doing so we are buying more American made products and we have also made decisions to buy from manufacturers that are geographically located close to Arizona and in some cases located in Arizona.