Here is a copy of this month's cover story from Housekeeping Solutions Magazine - August 2010 :
A Sustainable Approach To Green
Addressing Today's Cleaning Needs — Without Compromising Future Resources
By Ronnie Garrett
Green equals sustainable, right? Wrong. These are two different ideas with two very distinct definitions. Experts agree that the industry is green, or going green at a rapid pace, but sustainability is its future. In fact, the first step towards greater sustainability requires cleaning operations to fully understand the definitions of these two ideas.
"'Going green' is a marketing phrase that has pretty much run its course," says Patrick Krywko, sustainability director for HP Products, a jan/san distributor in Belleville, Mich. "People will say 'we're going green,' but what does that mean? It means they've bought a neutral cleaner that's green and they're using microfiber. But sustainability is so much more than that. It's looking out for electrical use and the labor force. It's how you clean, what you clean, reducing the stuff you use, watching the packaging that it comes in and more."
The following definitions further clarify these concepts. The Federal government defined "green" in Executive Order 13423 as "products and services that reduce the health and environmental impacts as compared to other products and services used for the same purpose." The definition, originally authored in 1993, specifically focuses on products and services from two angles: health and environmental.
The Brundtland Commission, formally the World Commission on Environment and Development, coined what has become the most often-quoted definition of "sustainable development" in the early 90s. It is defined as development that "meets the needs of the present, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."
"Essentially we want to do things today in a way that doesn't compromise the ability of future generations to meet their needs," says Steve Ashkin, CEO of Sustainability Dashboard Tools.
An easy way to distinguish between the two is that green cleaning involves the products custodial operations use and how they use them, while sustainability encompasses what departments are doing within their own buildings and with their own people to be more sustainable.
Honor The Triple Bottom Line
Any organization seeking greater sustainability should follow the Triple Bottom Line concept, which is defined as "the financial, social and environmental affects of a firm's policies and actions that determine its viability as a sustainable organization," according to Renae Hesselink, CPIM, LEED-AP, vice president of sustainability at Nichols, a distributor based in Muskegon, Mich.
"Balancing these three things is not an easy task," says Hesselink. "But it's something cleaning operations should strive for. When you're making any major decision, you should be asking yourself: How does this affect the environment? How does this affect us economically? How does it affect our community, our customers, our employees and so on?"
Ashkin presents the following example to further explain the concept. If a manufacturer of wood products consumes trees faster than new ones can grow, it won't be sustainable — at some point it will run out of trees. If it operates its business in such a way that its expenses exceed its income, it won't be sustainable — at some point it will run out of money. Finally, if it operates in such a way that people do not want to come to work for it, it won't be sustainable either — at some point it will run out of workers.
"The point of this illustration is that two out of three is not enough," he says. "We need to simultaneously address all three components of the Triple Bottom Line. Imagine a three-legged stool. What happens to the stool if one leg breaks?"
Unfortunately, individuals overseeing each piece of the puzzle often do not agree. Ashkin explains that the business community typically claims they cannot do anything unless it's profitable. All the while, the environmental community believes they have to protect the environment at any cost. And at the same time, the labor community focuses on benefits and pay for the workers.
"They look at the world from their own perspectives and argue about which is the right priority," he says. "The Triple Bottom Line helps us understand that they are all right. For us to have sustainable operations, all three issues must be addressed."
Today the focus often centers on green and profit, which Ashkin believes is in error.
"Yes, departments are using green products. Yes, they are being profitable. But how are they measuring, addressing and reporting on human rights concerns such as wages, training, equal opportunities, opportunities for advancement, nondiscrimination, equity and so on," he asks. "When we think about sustainability, we have to become responsible and account for all these issues, not just focus on profits and going green."
The Path To Sustainability
Becoming more sustainable can seem daunting, when all three considerations are factored in.
Ashkin recommends cleaning operations begin by looking at the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), www.globalreporting.org. The GRI is a network-based organization that has pioneered sustainability-reporting framework that sets out principals and indicators organizations can use to measure and report their economic, environmental and social performance.
Hesselink then recommends building a sustainability team comprised of heads from various departments within an organization. Exposing this team to feedback from a mixture of departments will result in well-rounded sustainable initiatives.
But, this team needs to be broken down by function. The accounting department will report on very different things than the human resources staff or the facilities team, and those things will be very different than what the ownership reports on.
"This is an organizational process," Ashkin says. "It's not just about what product you use or the services you offer, this is about how the entire organization operates."
The next step is to identify the data the team collects, as well as the data gaps to begin the reporting function. Here Krywko recommends the team start with a baseline building audit.
"You've got to find out what you're doing right and what you're doing wrong before you can write a policy, otherwise you're flying blind," he says.
This audit should look at everything from the products used and how they are stored, the equipment and how it's maintained, building lighting, energy use, water use, scheduling and more.
Create A Sustainability Roadmap
Policy writing should serve as a roadmap to get the cleaning operation on the path to greater sustainability, says Krywko.
"This policy should be a mission-forward way of thinking that says things like: From now on we'll buy trash can liners that are right sized; we're going to use preferred chemicals and papers; we're going to schedule properly so that we're covering all areas of the building that should be covered in terms of human health," he says. "You need to evaluate your cleaning products, practices and equipment."
When writing such a policy, operations need to think about what the building occupants and management might be looking for. First and foremost, is this organization looking to become more sustainable themselves? If so, what can the custodial department do to help them meet those specific needs?
Custodial managers can begin looking at what they are buying and who they are buying from. Look for suppliers and manufacturers that publish annual sustainability reports, which document that they too are paying attention to their sustainability.
The bottom line is it doesn't matter what these suppliers say they are doing, it matters what they do. Ashkin explains this by talking about greenwashing, a great concern in the custodial industry. Any company can say they are green, but as consumers, it is the custodial manager's responsibility to ask suppliers to prove it. Ask to see the test data that says the products are safer and better for the environment, and look to third-party certifications, adds Hesselink.
"To avoid greenwashing, go with products that have third-party certifications attached to them," she says. "Whether that is Green Seal, Design for the Environment (DfE) or EcoLogo, you can be assured that the products are safer and claims are accurate."
Ask manufactures and distributors to also show that they manage a sustainable operation, says Ashkin. Request their data reports illustrating how they are more sustainable than the next guy.
"Are they doing sustainability tracking? Are they publishing reports and making them public?" he asks.
Green Is In
Managers would be naïve to think green is out, it's not. Green plays a very large role in any sustainability effort.
From an energy perspective, for example, custodial operations can purchase energy efficient equipment. They might begin purchasing vacuums with higher filtration levels and noise levels below 70 decibels. Or they may add auto-scrubbers with chemical dispensing systems on board or newer technology that uses only water to clean. The operation may begin cleaning with cold water to eliminate the energy needed to heat the water they use. Or they may move some cleaning functions to daylight hours.
While green is here to stay, sustainability requires cleaning operations to take a closer look at what they are doing. Managers should ask themselves, what is being done to meet the needs of the present while making sure future generations have the means to meet their own needs?
When a cleaning operation can answer that question, then they will not only be green, but sustainable as well.
Ronnie Garrett is a freelance writer based in Fort Atkinson, Wis.
The following resources can help put cleaning operations on the path to greater sustainability:
• Sustainability Dashboard Tools. Tools and resources to help cleaning operations become more sustainable. www.green2sustainable.com.
• U.S. EPA ENERGY STAR Program is a joint program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy helping organizations save money and protect the environment through energy efficient products and practices. A variety of tools are available at www.energystar.gov.
• U.S. EPA WaterSense. This EPA-sponsored partnership program seeks to protect the future of the nation's water supply by promoting water efficiency and enhancing the market for water-efficient products, programs and practices. More information can be found at www.epa.gov/watersense/.
• ISSA offers information and events surrounding sustainability issues. Visit http://www.issa.com/.
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