Life-cycle assessments of cleaning services have shown that the products and techniques used, as well as business-related transport and waste management practices, can affect the environment.
The impacts mainly occur while the cleaning is taking place and at the waste disposal stage, but what happens during procurement and staff training also has a major bearing on environmental impacts.
Key areas that service providers need to focus on are:
The cleaning industry in New Zealand is where many new migrants get their first job and it also provides short-term earning opportunities to meet a particular financial need. Consequently, staff turnover is high and a significant percentage of employees in the industry have no formal educational qualifications – around a quarter were also born overseas. That raises issues for cleaning services providers around literacy, numeracy and proficiency in English, which can pose challenges in ensuring staff are trained properly and able to follow procedures correctly, such as proper use of chemicals.
Eco Pro’s Anne Quaid says their biggest challenge is to get “buy-in” from their clients to an environment-focused service. Many people say the environment is important to them “but they don’t actually care,” she says. “If they’re to have an Eco Choice-licensed service, they actually have to be involved in the process. They have to be keen to recycle, ensuring waste goes into the proper bins – our cleaners can’t do it for them. But if the company management is not interested and staff can’t be bothered, the whole things falls down.”
Cleaning companies can help the environment by carefully selecting cleaning products, consumables like disposal bags, and the equipment they use. They can also train staff to use environmentally preferable techniques, actively participate in recycling schemes, and establish effective waste, transport and energy management policies and practices.
To meet the Eco Choice specification, service providers, for example, must only buy chemical cleaning products, sanitary paper products, soaps, toiletries and other consumables licensed by Eco Choice. Plastic packaging of cleaning products must be refillable where possible and recyclable, with chemical products bought in quantities that minimise packaging waste, where feasible.
The specification focuses on minimising use of chemicals, proper collection and disposal of waste, and proper safety training and protection for cleaning staff.
Under the specification, service providers must have effective waste management policies and procedures, including initiatives to reduce waste generation, and are also required to minimise fuel consumption through fuel efficiency measures, vehicle selection and driver training as well as minimise energy use.
Service providers are also required to help building managers achieve their own energy management objectives and support their recycling programmes.
All those requirements call for employees who understand environmental challenges and are schooled and skilled in the ways to meet them, and both the Eco Choice-licensed providers in New Zealand place a major emphasis on staff training.
At Eco Pro, before employees even begin working for the company, contract cleaning teams are trained on how to clean better, healthier and more ethically, with a strong focus on protecting human health as well as the planet. Training includes instruction on recycling, good procurement decisions, and a close look at how individuals’ actions can impact on the environment. Among other things, Eco Pro: encourages its teams to attend ITO courses and obtain the NZ Certificate in Cleaning to Level 2; provides on-the-job training; meets with all teams at least every six months; undertakes full site inductions for new teams on all sites; regularly reviews sites for hazards, emergency evacuation procedures and any changes to clients’ health and safety policies and procedures; and constantly tracks team performance – in all aspects of service delivery.
At CrestClean, franchisees are encouraged to buy smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles, says Managing Director Grant McLauchlan. A number of the franchise owners have changed to electric vehicles, mostly vans and also, as a policy, the company buys more durable vacuum-cleaners because they last longer, reducing electrical waste.
CrestClean has also had considerable success with a new Eco Choice-approved hydrogen peroxide-based cleaner it has used to replace more environmentally harmful cleaners. The new product has had the added benefit of leaving no residue and giving an improved finish to whiteware – a “sparkle”, says McLauchlan. The company uses micro-fibre cloths exclusively, reducing the amount of chemicals required.
Eco Choice regularly reviews its specifications to ensure they keep pace with developments and improvements. One area of focus for the organisation has been to encourage a reduction in use of disinfectants and hand sanitisers that have been shown to have harmful effects on the environment because of their biocidal properties.
McLauchlan says CrestClean strongly supports Eco Choice’s calls for the use of disinfectants in New Zealand to be phased out, except where absolutely necessary, because of their effects on the environment. “For many years disinfectants have been heavily marketed to consumers as necessary for a clean and safe home or workplace. But a growing body of research shows that their overuse is doing more harm than good to humans and the environment.”
Anne Quaid at Eco Pro says innovation is important for the company and will continue to be. “We’re always looking for better ways and new technologies to take more of the chemicals out of cleaning and make it safer for cleaners and clients. Much of the innovation isn’t available in New Zealand yet but we’re pushing to get it here. When we first began our crusade to make cleaning more eco-friendly, the only true ‘green’ cleaning chemicals available had to be imported from the US; now New Zealand has a number of companies making friendly and effective products.”
The benefits that arise from adherence to the cleaning services specification are many, for both the cleaning staff and building occupiers, as well as the environment.
In addition to the personal health and safety benefits, environmental benefits include: reduced impact through less use of hazardous substances (or their elimination); conservation of non-renewable resources and reduction of greenhouse gases through improved vehicle fleet management and efficient resource use; and reduced energy consumption through using environmentally preferable consumables and recycling. Safer cleaning products have been shown to contribute to greater productivity by building occupants by improving the working environment – making it cleaner and healthier.
Building owners whose premises are cleaned by Eco Choice-licensed companies will also get an economic and commercial benefit through their ability to contribute to the New Zealand Green Building Council’s Green Star rating for the building. Through the new Green Star Performance tool points can be achieved for use of low environmental impact cleaning products, waste reduction/recycling monitoring, and landfill disposal reduction targets.
Grant McLauchlan says it’s been heartening to see customers and potential customers coming to the realisation that the sustainability focus the company talks about is borne out by the Eco Choice approvals.
Anne Quaid says the most satisfying thing for her is the knowledge they are making a difference. “Having that third-party accreditation means a great deal to us; it’s proof that we are doing something right.”
The cleaning industry is a vital part of the commercial, institutional and residential sectors in New Zealand, employing around 31,000 people in businesses ranging from sole operators to companies with more than 100 staff – 96 percent of those employees being in commercial cleaning, the balance being domestic cleaners. More than 80 percent of cleaning businesses have five or fewer employees.
Effective cleaning services provide health protection and a pleasant working environment for building users and residents. But achieving those goals has a number of environmental impacts.
Eco Choice Aotearoa’s Cleaning Services specification EC-45-18 (revised January 2018) applies to general indoor cleaning service contracts, including cleaning of commercial premises such as offices and retail premises, institutional premises like schools, hospitals and prisons, and residential premises. It covers standard, regular frequent cleaning procedures, as well as periodic cleaning of, for example, ceilings, windows and walls, and floor polishing. It doesn’t include building maintenance activities like painting, or specialised services such as carpet cleaning or stain removal.
Eco Choice Aotearoa (ENCZ) has two cleaning services licensees: Dunedin-based CrestClean, which operates more than 600 individual franchised businesses throughout New Zealand, and The Eco Pro Cleaning Co., which operates out of Albany and has 30 contracted cleaning teams.