Negative perceptions about green products still exist in the jan/san industry and if distributors want to be able to sell green products successfully, they must address this problem.

“If you go into some companies and mention green, they can’t get you out of the door quickly enough,” says Jeannie Murphy, president of Murphy Sanitary Supply, a Broken Arrow, Okla.-based distributor. “They’ve had experiences with green products costing more and not working as well, and they think when you say green they’re getting less.”

Distributors can work around these perceptions by selling a green philosophy. Las Vegas'-based Brady Industries’ Go Green program, for instance, educates customers on the true benefits of going green and gives customers a chance to compare green products to their traditional counterparts.

“If you tell them here is a regular product and here is one that is green that works just as well, generally they’ll ask for samples to test it,” says Ryan Banks, vice president of sales and marketing at Brady Industries. “I think almost everyone would prefer to use a green product if they can.”

It’s important to stress green products can also save money, adds Teresa Farmer, LEED-AP and sustainability consultant for Kelsan Inc., a Knoxville, Tenn.-based distributor, who points out that when she recently converted a university account to green, they reduced their chemicals from 15 products to four and started saving money the first month. In turn, their savings enabled them to begin implementing other green and sustainability initiatives.

“They were able to update their equipment, buy microfiber, and purchase additional matting for their buildings,” she says. “Before they had the money in their budget but spent it all on chemicals.”

Another method that generates interest in green products is stressing the health benefits they bring to both custodians and  building occupants.

“When I approach a customer, I don’t necessarily say we need to get you on green products,” says Murphy. “I always go with the safety approach. That’s why we are doing green. These products are safer for the environment and the user.”

However, while these products are often healthier than traditional ones, distributors must remember that building service contractors are out to make a profit and in-house service providers face smaller budgets every year.

“If it doesn’t fit into their budget they are not going to do it,” Farmer says, noting she takes a hard look at cleaning procedures and training to see if standardizing the customer’s cleaning program might improve efficiency and provide a quicker return on their investment.

It’s also important to stress that green cleaning doesn’t happen overnight, adds Farmer, who notes she generally helps customers convert one or two buildings first.

“This allows them to use up the old chemicals they have on hand while working out the kinks in their green cleaning operation,” she says. “Once it’s working well, it can be rolled out to all the buildings they maintain."

Monitoring and reporting a customer’s progress toward its green goals also helps sell green products.

“We send regular reports that show what percentage of what they buy is environmentally friendly and offer suggestions for improvement,” says Banks.

The industry is going green and it’s the job of distributors to help get it there. For those distributors who get it right, their customers aren’t the only ones who will see green.

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