Distributors Help Customers Become More Sustainable
Many leaders in the professional cleaning industry believe customer demand pushed the industry to develop green cleaning products that are both more effective at cleaning and more cost-effective. The industry was also pushed in this direction by Executive Order 13101, signed by then-President Bill Clinton, which directed the facility managers of more than 100,000 federally owned or operated buildings worldwide to begin using green cleaning products.
In an important move, the order defined green cleaning as “the use of products and services that reduce the health and environmental impacts compared to similar products and services used for the same purpose.” This is still the generally accepted definition of green cleaning today.
However, when it comes to sustainability in the 21st century, the federal government appears to have been superseded by private industry—most notably, retail giant Walmart. Starting in 2005, the company made sustainability one of its key concerns. And with more than 100,000 global suppliers, Walmart has considerable “pull power.”
Thousands of the company’s suppliers are now working with Walmart, not only helping the company become more sustainable, but also becoming more sustainable in their own business operations. Walmart’s efforts are helping to define sustainability throughout the supply chain.
Going a step further, in 2009 Walmart introduced its sustainability index. This initiative was designed to track and measure the sustainability and environmental impact of the products the company sells, with the goal of reducing the use of nonrenewable resources (such as petroleum and water) as well as the greenhouse gasses generated in the manufacture and transport of these products. Overall, the index is meant to encourage scientific research and innovation to create a more sustainable supply chain both in the United States and around the world.
Those suppliers that are following suit and becoming more sustainable are receiving the green “buying light” from Walmart, while those that fall behind may find the retailer looking elsewhere for suppliers that can meet their index and become more sustainable. If all goes well—meaning enough suppliers come on board with Walmart’s efforts – by the end of 2017, US Walmart and Sam’s Club stores will receive as much as 70 percent of their goods from global suppliers that meet the goals of the index.
The Quandary for Suppliers
Many of Walmart’s suppliers also market their products to other retailers and B2B clients that are also encouraging their vendors to become more sustainable. However, many of these suppliers have discovered that meeting these sustainability goals can be a significant challenge. Some suppliers find green and sustainable initiatives to be unclear at times while others feel the bar is being raised a bit too rapidly for them to keep up.
This is all uncharted territory for many suppliers, and information and guidance can be hard to come by. Because of this, many are turning to their own vendors for the guidance and information they need to meet these sustainability initiatives.
One resource that has been able to meet this need in several vertical markets is facility maintenance distributors. According to professional cleaning industry icons Stephen Ashkin, president of the green advocacy group The Ashkin Group, and David Frank, president of the American Institute for Cleaning Sciences, a foremost expert on facility maintenance and jansan distribution, the professional cleaning industry is now set to play a crucial role in helping its business partners operate in a Greener and more sustainable manner.
In the past, these facility maintenance distributors typically focused on marketing cleaning and paper-related products and equipment. Over the years, however, their menu of offerings has increased and, with it, the complexity of their product selection. Given the volume of products currently on the market and the variety of needs of their end customers, some facility maintenance distributors have turned to new technologies such as Web-based dashboard systems that organize their offerings and help their customers select more sustainable and green products.
Some of these systems work by cataloging the current product inventory of a company. Once this information is input into the system, the system is able to suggest more sustainable alternatives—for instance, those that are green-certified, or made from recycled materials, and so on—that are also competitive in terms of both cost and performance.
These suggested products can then be analyzed to ensure they meet, for instance, Walmart’s sustainability index or the requirements of other customers with similar initiatives. This process helps suppliers make fact-based decisions that can be validated should their end customers ask for verification.
Ultimately, such sustainability indexes and initiatives are not only good for the environment but often prove good for the bottom line as well. Once vendors and suppliers overcome the initial challenges, many find the product analyses provided by these dashboard systems actually create cost savings and greater efficiencies, which helps reduce their own costs and overhead. Finding guidance and reliable sources is key to making this happen, and when that happens, the support for green initiatives grows even stronger.
Michael Wilson is director of marketing for AFFLINK, a leading sales and marketing organization for the facility management, healthcare, education, industrial, hospitality, and related industries. He may be reached through his company website, www.AFFLINK.com.
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