Typically, when people hear about the professional cleaning industry adopting green and sustainable initiatives, they think the industry is selecting and using green-certified cleaning solutions, tools, and equipment. While this is true, it is actually only one part of the “greening” of the professional cleaning industry—at least as it applies to the larger cleaning contractors in the United States.
As one of the largest group purchasing organizations in the professional cleaning industry, we have witnessed many of our large cleaning contract members adopting “green purchasing programs.” Over the years, numerous terms have been used to describe green purchasing. Among them are environmentally preferable purchasing, sustainable procurement, and socially responsible procurement.
While there may be some variations in concept, all of these terms share similar principles and values including the intentional purchase of goods and services that protect human health, protect the environment, have social and community benefits, and at the same time meet if not exceed price and performance standards.
The emphasis on the word intentional is intentional. Green purchasing, whether in the professional cleaning industry or any other industry, is an ongoing practice involving the way procurement is performed. Products are selected based on not just price or performance—the key metrics historically used—but also on their health, environmental, and social benefits as just discussed.
In the professional cleaning industry—as in many other industries—this means selecting products taking into account the following:
- What is the product’s cradle-to-grave story? Think about issues such as the raw materials (if any) extracted to manufacture the product, how it is manufactured, how it is used and applied, and its eventual reuse, recycle, or disposal.
- Are packaging materials limited and used wisely? Specifically for the professional cleaning industry, cleaning solutions can be delivered in larger containers and in more concentrated form to reduce both packaging and transportation needs.
- Do shipping procedures help reduce fuel consumption? Such procedures include timing deliveries so that trucks do not have to sit, motors idling, waiting for docks to open and reducing the number of left-hand turns trucks must make delivering products—to help reduce greenhouse gases.*
Not all of our members and all large contract cleaning companies are adopting these green purchasing practices—yet. However, green purchasing is likely to be adopted by more, larger cleaning contractors in years to come.
Among the key reasons the green purchasing movement likely will grow in the professional cleaning industry is that more and more purchasers involved in green purchasing are reporting they have been able to reduce if not eliminate waste, reduce their environmental impact, and reduce costs. Many of these cost reductions are simply the result of greater efficiencies when delivering products, as discussed earlier.
Another crucial factor that is fostering green purchasing in the professional cleaning industry is that it is helping contractors to grow their businesses.
Large cleaning contractors typically are the companies selected to maintain the offices and locations of some of the largest organizations in the country, from colleges and universities to corporate campuses. These organizations are all more focused on green and sustainable practices today than ever before, and this extends to the vendors they do business with.
It’s hard to imagine a university, for instance, that places a great deal of emphasis on green and sustainable practices hiring a contract cleaning company for which these issues are of little or no concern. Instead, the university views all of the vendors it selects as part of the university team, and when it comes to green purchasing, it wants all of its team members on the same page.
Terry Sambrowski is Executive Director of the National Service Alliance, LLC, the leading group purchasing organization in the professional cleaning industry. She can be reached through her organizations website at www.nansa.org