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'Green' is not enough15th of April 2010
As one of the industry's leading cleaning machine manufacturers, Kärcher is planning a number of launches for this year's ISSA/INTERCLEAN. Michelle Marshall, ECJ editor, talks exclusively to managing director Markus Asch at the company's headquarters in Winnenden, Germany. Asch explains how sustainability has long been at the heart of its culture and why, for any business, simply being 'green' is not enough.
Environmental protection is nothing new for Kärcher, one of the sector's leading producers of cleaning machines. In 1996 the environmental management system at its Winnenden headquarters was certified in accordance with the international ISO 14001 standard. All the company's plants set themselves environmental protection goals every year - with a focus on raw material use, production processes, waste reduction, distribution, water and energy consumption. The solar plant at Winnenden helps to power the factory there, with wood chips also being used to generate energy.
The message about sustainability and 'green' cleaning is often becoming confused in the cleaning industry however, Markus Asch believes. "What is it exactly? What do we mean by sustainability? Do we mean during design, during production (how much CO2 we produce etc), during operation or after it’s been used?
"We can take the case of a high pressure cleaner as a good illustration. We can see then that we must look at the whole life cycle of the machine - everything from the materials we use to produce it, how it’s produced, how it is used (consumption of fuel etc) - and finally, how it is disposed of.
"Green cleaning is much more than a phrase. It's made up of three components – the environment, responsibility and efficiency. We must run our businesses so they are sustainable. If you only focus on one aspect you will not succeed. We must take all of them into account to be successful.”
Asch prefers to use the term eco-efficiency when speaking about Kärcher's approach, "because if an operation uses a so-called ‘green’ machine that does not actually do the work required of it in the way the contract cleaner needs, they will not be in business. That is also part of our responsibility as a manufacturer".
And he is convinced that this philosophy of eco-efficiency will become increasingly important in the future - an ecological approach but in a way which still ensures efficient working. “We have to provide our partners with the right machines and solutions, not products which are purely ‘green’," he said.
“The perfect machine is one which adapts to the conditions it works in, most efficiently – detergent or no detergent for example, or high performance versus maintenance cleaning. There should be no unnecessary use of resources and the machine should take responsibility by automatically adapting. That could mean reduced brush pressure, suction – all resources should be used according to the conditions. And what is vital is that the machine must still provide a good clean.”
Kärcher as a company always works hard in transferring its sustainability principles wherever it operates in the world and aims to offer its partners guidance on how those principles can be adapted to any operation. What is its experience of how building service contractors (BSCs) view the subject? "It is high on the list of priorities for BSCs in specifying products now but at the moment sustainability is not so deep-rooted in their culture,” Asch replied.
“The deepest thing that will drive people is values,” he continued. “And we are a very value-driven company. What we do now has to make sense for the future.” He firmly believes it is necessary for businesses to get into a mindset of values whereby saving resources is always a consideration. “We can then focus on innovation, service and other areas of development in the right way.”
How is Kärcher, then, approaching product development in this new, more environmentally conscious world? "We would certainly never just come up with a system and say to the market ‘this is the future’. No manufacturer can make that boast, we must all adapt because everything is changing and that change is gradual."
What is Asch's opinion about the pure water technology which has been adopted by fellow machine producers in recent years but so far not by Kärcher? “Water cleaning is only one method to be used in very specific applications and we do not want to move the market in a certain direction,” is his only reaction.
So the balance between ecology and efficient working can be a difficult one to achieve. Asch believes the challenge can only be solved by more innovation, and not purely in the development of machinery. "For example, forward thinking contract cleaners are using the benefits of their sustainable working methods in maintaining and improving their relationships with clients. At the moment this may only be the case with the larger firms but it will certainly drive the market.
“Acting sustainably has benefits for everybody, and it is a concept that cannot just be developed as part of the marketing function. It has to be a key element in driving the whole company.”
How can manufacturers drive the market forward in the future? Asch replied: "I believe we need to focus more on cleaning processes – move away from looking simply at machines and tools. One significant area to address is the waste of process functions. We must ask how does the operator function, what is their business? We then become true solutions providers.
“The other important development must be mechanisation of cleaning tasks that have traditionally been manual. Mechanisation brings with it a better, safer and more stable approach.”
It is also crucial for all product suppliers to seek more feedback from the users themselves, Asch concluded. "As an industry we are all guilty. We talk about the features of our machines – the rpm, tank capacities, scrubbing widths, etc. What we should be doing is finding out about our customers' challenges and needs, in order to offer truly sustainable solutions.”