Cleaning products with sustainability built in

24th of October 2013
Cleaning products with sustainability built in

A growing number of cleaning operations are looking at making their operations more sustainable by using products designed to reduce energy, chemical and water use. We ask cleaning companies and manufacturers about this trend and find out about the latest sustainable products and systems on the market.

Sustainability is no longer seen as an ‘extra’ that companies can use to differentiate themselves from the competition. It is increasingly becoming a requirement that needs to be in place before contracts are awarded. Major corporations – public sector institutions in particular – must be seen to be ‘green’ when awarding contracts to suppliers.

But sustainability is such a nebulous term that it can be difficult to weigh up which company is more sustainable if, say, company A has a strong policy on waste disposal while company B has a well-documented corporate social responsibility policy.

So cleaning contractors are increasingly using intrinsically green products and systems to demonstrate their sustainability. One is Julius Rutherfoord, according to operations director James Bennett.  “Simple things make a difference: for example we use refillable trigger spray bottles and concentrated cleaning solutions to cut down on packaging, weight and fuel consumption,” he said. “We also use microfibre cloths, diamond pads, pure water systems and chemical-free cleaning products and our online stock management system helps us to eradicate unnecessary journeys. Also, 90 per cent of our vehicles are electric hybrid or dual fuel.”

The company has also introduced bicycles with trailers on some contracts to reduce vehicle usage. “Renewable energy is provided by 36 solar panels in our head office, which is recycled itself – it was previously a Victorian tram shed,” he said.

ServiceMaster Clean has developed a ‘Green for’ range of cleaning products designed to have minimal environmental impact says business development director Alan Lewin. “But it is not just about the products: one of our businesses is currently trialling the use of an electric bike, liveried in ServiceMaster Clean yellow, to travel to customers’ premises and reduce fuel consumption,” he said.

Logical business

According to Lewin a sustainable approach is the logical way of doing business. “Studies have shown that sustainable buildings achieve measurable financial gains due to employee health, productivity and staff retention as well as lower operating costs,” he said.

But he adds sustainability is not the only factor that matters. “Excellent service is crucial and so is value for money, but these factors can work hand in hand,” he said. “Using the example of the electric bike, this allows us to travel across cities more quickly to service our clients while also helping to keep down costs.”

Sales director designate for In Depth Managed Services Gary Johns says his company assesses the environmental impact of all activities. “We use microfibre cleaning cloths that can remove most dirt and stains without chemicals, and work with customers and suppliers to recycle waste,” he said. “We also undertake careful route-planning and investigate alternative means of travel, and our vehicles have tracking devices to monitor fuel efficiency.”

Sustainable methods are also becoming increasingly important to Nviro’s clients according to business development manager Louise Richards. “We carry out a lot of work in the public sector and sustainability is a significant factor in the tender process,” she said. Nviro focuses on buying materials from sustainable suppliers and uses Bunzl Greenline Plus products, which hold the EU Ecolabel and are said to be biodegradable, non-toxic and non-harmful to aquatic life.

“We use microfibre mops and cloths and a cleaning product that converts water into an active cleaning solution,” said Richards. “We also use FreshClean, a powdered chemical that avoids the need to transport gallons of liquid chemicals. One five kg tub contains the equivalent cleaning power of up to 2,000 trigger spray bottles.”

Principle Cleaning Services uses chemical dosing systems, microfibre mops and diamond floor pads to increase its own sustainability. “Other initiatives range from increasing recycling to replacing hand towels with low-emission hand dryers and reducing energy by making just-in-time deliveries,” says the company’s sales and marketing director Jim Freeman.

Principle is also working towards reducing energy through its Hybrid Cleaning system, which uses a full-time workforce to operate more flexibly and reduce night-time working hours. “Hybrid is also a more socially acceptable way of operating since travelling is easier for staff than when working early mornings or late evenings,” said Freeman. “We operate Hybrid at 14 locations, all of which are being delivered carbon neutrally.”

Contract cleaner focus

Other sustainable products used by the company include biodegradable rubbish bags, recycled toilet tissue and rechargeable battery-powered machines.

While contract cleaners are focusing on using more sustainable solutions, the manufacturers are also doing their best to come up with products that offer ‘built-in sustainability’. Among these is Ecover which always attempts to manufacture its products in the most sustainable possible way according to Lies Marijnissen.

“Environmental focus is increasingly becoming a major driver and will ultimately become the cleaning industry standard,” she said.  Latest products from Ecover include a range of building care products: Multi Daily, Multi Forte and San Daily. “These are highly concentrated which means that less water needs to be transported and less material needs to be used to generate the same amount of diluted solution,” said Marijnissen.

Also from Ecover is ‘refill’ packaging and a three-litre Bag-in-Box refill system. “This can save up to 65 per cent in plastic weight compared with a PE can,” she said. “Furthermore the cardboard used for the box is made from 100 per cent recycled board. Even in the production stage the empty bags and boxes are flat-packed to maximise logistical efficiency, unlike blow-moulded plastic cans which arrive at plant to be filled. In these cases, most of the transport space is taken up by air.”

Marijnissen claims that a growing number of companies are showing an interest in sustainable cleaning products, but says sustainability is only one argument that convinces customers to buy. “The price must also be fair and the products must work,” she said.

Nilfisk-Advance’s general manager business development Steen Fellenius says his company’s EcoFlex line of scrubbers also offers built-in sustainability. “For light cleaning tasks, the operator can choose to work in a sustainable mode with a reduced pad pressure and without the use of chemicals,” he said. “The operator has the option to push a button for a one-minute burst of cleaning performance, and then chemicals will be applied and the pad pressure will be increased.”

He claims the company’s CS7000 hybrid combination machine is another intrinsically green solution. “This combination machine can run on battery power as well as either LPG or diesel fuel,” he said. “Customers can reduce their environmental impact by running the machine on a battery and then switch to the fuel operation when required.”

He says Nilfisk is seeing an increasing demand for sustainable products and machinery. “However, customers are still very concerned about the cost of their cleaning equipment, and are somewhat reluctant to pay extra for such solutions,” he added. “So it is becoming a trend to make sustainable solutions the standard.”

Market driven by price

According to Fellenius it is part of Nilfisk’s development process to consider improved sustainability performance when developing new generations of machines. “More than 70 per cent of our product launches over the past few years have offered improvements in one or more of the following areas: energy consumption, water consumption, detergent consumption and recyclability,” he said.

Kärcher’s ?environmental public relations officer Linda Laipple agrees sustainability is becoming increasingly important to customers. “The trend in commercial cleaning sector contracts is towards participation in electricity costs and energy-efficient equipment as a success factor in public tenders,” she adds.

Kärcher recently launched the T eco!efficiency vacuum cleaner series said to offer customers a 40 per cent energy saving with practically the same cleaning performance as basic models. “The eco!efficiency series is designed to appeal to groups for whom energy consumption, sustainability and/or noise levels are all important criteria,” says Laipple.

The company’s eco!efficiency operating mode is now available across other Kärcher product groups as well. “With our hot water pressure washers using the eco!efficiency setting, the machine switches to the most economical temperature range of 60°C but at a full water flow rate,” she said.

“When used with Kärcher scrubber-dryers, the eco!efficiency mode can reduce energy consumption, cleaning agent consumption or water consumption depending on the model. This allows the machine to operate not only for noticeably longer and much more quietly, but also at lower cost.”

Bio-Productions managing director Mike James claims his company’s Toss Block urinal blocks offer “built-in sustainability” since they contain bacterial cultures that clean and deodorise urinal traps and pipes, reducing the amount of flushing required.

“Urinals only need to be flushed around three times a day when using Toss Blocks, whereas this is usually carried out at 15-minute intervals in schools and other institutions,” said James. “Toss Blocks also alleviate the need for using aggressive chemicals to clear away calcium deposits.”

However, he says customers do not always recognise the sustainable advantages of this type of solution. “The janitor or purchaser will only be buying the chemicals, so when making their cost calculations they might not take into account the huge water savings they can make,” he said.

“Also, many still perceive it to be cheaper to use acid bombs and rods to clear drains when they actually become blocked, rather than opt for a maintenance product that prevents this from happening in the first place.”

And James adds that the market is still very much driven by price rather than sustainability. “Manufacturers are happy to supply good quality sustainable products  - but it all comes down to the customer wanting to buy cheap to make a saving,” he said.

“We can all produce very effective products made from natural ingredients that grow on trees or that come out of the earth. But at the end of the day, people still don’t want to pay for it.”


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