As the sustainability movement permeates every aspect of the jan/san industry, distributors are responding with a slew of newly created positions that reflect this progression. Often referred to as "sustainability consultants," these individuals are responsible for more than selling green products: They are often charged with spearheading their company's in-house sustainability initiatives — whether they be reducing energy and fuel consumption, implementing recycling programs, or achieving LEED certification — and helping customers achieve similar objectives.

For some distributors, the role of sustainability consultant evolved naturally out of an existing position. Several years ago, Warminster, Pa.-based Philip Rosenau Co., changed Bill McGarvey's title from training manager to director of training and sustainability, in response to industry changes and customer demand.

"Because the sustainability movement was gaining momentum, it became a major portion of my job to try to keep current with these changes," says McGarvey. "Customers had a lot of questions. They were being pressured to practice sustainability, and we saw more folks trying to get LEED certification. It was incumbent upon us to be the authority."

Likewise, at Kelsan Inc., Knoxville, Tenn., Teresa Farmer transitioned from a buyer to a sustainability consultant about four years ago due to growing customer demand.

"In 2004, Ken Bodie, our president, felt that sustainability was going to be a demand of our customers and asked me to look into it," says Farmer. "It gradually ended up being a full-time position."

Today, Farmer, who is a LEED Accredited Professional (LEED AP) helps customers develop green cleaning and training programs as well as obtain LEED and ISSA's Cleaning Industry Management Standard-Green Building (CIMS-GB) certification.

Becoming An Expert

The benefits of having a sustainability consultant on staff are numerous, say distributors. In addition to adopting sustainable practices in-house that affect their own bottom line, sustainability experts give their companies a leg up on the competition, expand their sphere of influence, and open doors to new business.

Self-directed and passionate about sustainability, distributors interviewed for this article fulfilled their new roles by immersing themselves in the industry and pursuing educational opportunities. Some focused on becoming LEED APs to assist with both in-house and customers' LEED certification efforts.

Renae Hesselink became vice president of sustainability for Spring Lake, Mich.-based Nichols three years ago. Before that, the position did not exist. But Hesselink had a passion for sustainability and had been participating in local educational courses prior to taking on her new role.

"I quickly pursued my LEED AP credentials," she says. "We were pursing LEED on our own building at the time, so that's where a lot of my focus was."

Today, Hesselink devotes a third of her time to internal initiatives, including lean practices and recycling efforts. The remainder of her time is spent in the community connecting with customers and prospects.

"I participate in different sustainability and lean-related organizations," says Hesselink. "I sit on several steering committees or boards related to sustainability and lean — a couple of them are customers' advisory boards."

Like Hesselink, Patrick Krywko, a LEED AP and director of sales for Detroit-based Allied Eagle Supply, took the initiative to learn as much as possible about sustainability, which he describes as "the next phase of our industry." Krywko received his accreditation while working for his former company, HP Products in Indianapolis, at which point he was given the title of sustainability consultant. And although he no longer bears that title, Krywko says he is still active in Allied Eagle's sustainability efforts.

"I teach the salespeople what the LEED standards are and what the ISSA CIMS-GB standards are so we can counsel our customers and guide them through a certifiable cleaning program," says Krywko.

Additionally, Krywko is involved in the green schools initiative for the Detroit chapter of the USGBC.

Sustainable Service

Some distributors begin their education when they become involved in their own company's LEED certification process — and then carry that knowledge to their customers. Keith Schneringer, marketing manager for WAXIE Sanitary Supply, San Diego, served as the sustainability consultant for the company's Salt Lake City and Mesa, Ariz., facilities that earned LEED certification.

"We want to have the knowledge and expertise to help our customers reach their sustainability goals," says Schneringer. "At the same time, we want to make sure we're looking at our own buildings so we are walking the walk."

In addition to helping customers navigate the certification process, sustainability consultants help them establish green cleaning programs, implement training programs, conduct facility audits, and, finally, publicize their achievements.

WAXIE offers its customers the Green Partner Support (GPS) program to help them adopt more sustainable cleaning solutions.

"We set up the policy, audit and baseline their products, and then make product recommendations," explains Schneringer. "Then we implement training and look at the way the products are being procured. We look at the whole interaction and find ways we can do things faster, more efficiently and more sustainably."

Jim Sheffer, director of sustainable building care at AmSan, Herrin, Ill., provides customers with cost management solutions that support and advance the implementation of sustainable building care practices. The company's CleanGreenScoreReport Program helps school districts and campuses achieve this goal.

"Sustainability to me isn't just about taking a look at what products someone is using and making sure they're pre-certified to Green Seal," says Sheffer, "and it's not about changing the way in which they conduct their cleaning. It's a holistic approach to the whole custodial operation from their business end."

Leading By Example

Helping customers achieve sustainability goals is an important aspect of a sustainability consultant's job, it is by no means the most important. Distributors that hold a sustainability title must first ensure that they practice what they preach on the home front — and that they don't confuse sustainability with green.

"For the most part in our industry when someone talks about green cleaning, they think about using products that are Green Seal certified and microfiber. It's all product-oriented," says Krywko. "But sustainability is more than products. It's a mindset. It's the way a company operates. It has to do with reducing waste, using the right size can liner for the corresponding trash container, having dimmers on light switches. It's much more than the products themselves."

Steve Ashkin, president of The Ashkin Group, Bloomington, Ind., echoes this sentiment.

"The problem has to do with how we define sustainability," he explains. "For many companies, sustainability is synonymous with the word green. Personally, I do not equate green with sustainability. Green is about products, but sustainability is not about products as much as it is about how the organization itself functions."

According to Ashkin, a sustainability consultant's role in a distributor's enterprise first and foremost is to help the company operate more sustainably.

"By that I mean reducing their energy consumption, reducing their water consumption, reducing both solid waste and recycling, reducing their impacts from transportation," he says, "and more importantly addressing social equity related issues because that's what really distinguishes sustainability from corporate responsibility or environmental stewardship."

Philip Rosenau Co. recently started tracking energy and transportation costs.

"We try to route our trucks so we're burning less fuel," says McGarvey. "We also pay our drivers for pallets that they bring back at the end of the day over and above what they took out with them. We don't have to buy pallets, and it's keeping those pallets from going into landfills."

The company has also diverted about 18 tons of waste from landfills to a recycling program.

"We looked at cardboard we were throwing away and installed a bailer to bail cardboard, shrink wrap and office paper," says McGarvey. "The same recycler takes aluminum cans, scrap metal and scrap plastic."

The company also started picking up recycling materials from its three satellite locations whenever a truck was in the neighborhood and transporting it to the recycling center.

Other distributors are also taking measures to transform their internal operations.

Nichols has implemented changes that have resulted in huge savings in energy and waste hauling fees.

"Before, we just plugged numbers into a spreadsheet and kept track of them," says Hesselink. "Now we feed them into Energy Star Portfolio Manager and look at kilowatt hours and how those compare to last year. We watch those trends now, and we're still making improvement to our building. We just started replacing outside lights with LED lights."

Ashkin advises distributors to comply with the Global Reporting Initiative, which provides the framework for them to report on their sustainability efforts, and publish an annual sustainability report to document their progress.

"This is about transforming the way the distributor internally operates and reporting on it," he says. "They've got to change their operation. They don't have to be perfect, but they have to be legitimately working on it. They have to walk the talk, otherwise it's just greenwash."

Kassandra Kania is a freelance writer based in Charlotte, N.C. She is a frequent contributor to Sanitary Maintenance.