Sustainability - the next steps

14th of March 2013
Sustainability - the next steps

Sustainability is susceptible to trends in society in the same way as everything else is. Water savings, energy savings, reducing waste, recycling – which elements of sustainability resonate most with today’s companies and their customers? And what will tomorrow’s key sustainability focus be? We ask sustainable companies their views.

Sustainability is susceptible to trends in society in the same way as everything else is.  Many of yesterday’s key environmental concerns – such as acid rain and CFCs from aerosols - are barely discussed any more. True, these are less relevant today since a planned phase-out of CFCs was signed by more than 100 nations in 1992.  And similarly a general improvement in emissions regulation worldwide has eased the issue of acid rain.

But as some topics take a back seat, new environmental concerns emerge to replace them. Issues such as waste to landfill, vehicle emissions and over-use of packaging are now key areas in which corporations strive to become more sustainable. But companies have varying views concerning the key sustainability priorities of today and tomorrow.

According to general manager business development of Nilfisk-Advance Steen Fellenius there is been an increasing focus on corporate social responsibility over recent years. ”We see a growing number of customers screening their suppliers based on their general business conduct,” he said.
He also considers water use to be a particular priority today. “Water is a main component in delivering the highest standards of effective cleaning,” he said.

“At the same time it is a natural resource that we need to preserve. There is no doubt that water is – and will be – high on the agenda in our industry for years to come.”

Other key focus areas for sustainability in the cleaning industry are the use of energy and detergents and the issue of waste disposal, says Fellenius. He says Nilfisk-Advance closely monitors the consumption of electricity, heating and water on a quarterly basis at its factories in Europe, Asia and Americas. And he believes that our focus on environmental impact in society will only accelerate in the future.

“Cleaning equipment consumes energy and water and in some cases, detergents - and it is our goal to accomplish more with less,” he said.  “This trend will continue which will mean reducing costs for customers while simultaneously improving our environmental behaviour.”

According to Ecolab’s senior marketing communications manager Nick Burchell, many people are beginning to change the way they assess and measure a company’s sustainability.

Way of measuring

“It is no longer simply a question of looking at elements such as carbon footprint, the raw ingredients a company uses and the amount of recycling they carry out,” he said. “All these elements are important but people are also starting to look at the bigger picture and consider ways in which they can measure the sustainability of the services and products on offer. If a company can prove its sustainability, that adds enormous value.”

He says ecolabelling is one way in which sustainability can easily be measured, and he believes that standards such as the EU Ecolabel and Nordic Swan are here to stay. However, he adds that topics such as water, energy and waste will also become more important in future. “Water is becoming increasingly scarce so it is going to become a key feature in companies’ sustainability projects,” he said. “Energy will also be important  - particularly since the price is creeping up and there is an economic advantage to using less.”

Burchell adds that customers will also become increasingly concerned about the durability of products and he believes that excess waste will be avoided in general. “If we can make items last longer, the effect on the environment will be less,” he said. “And in the end cost is key so anything that helps customers to save money while also being sustainable will become more important.”

Marketing manager for PHS Washrooms Keri Reynolds agrees that saving water and energy are major sustainability issues today. “Using water more efficiently is a smart way for organisations to save energy and money while also delivering on commitments to cut energy and resource wastage,” she said. “As well as the financial benefits this offers, by demonstrating your company’s water efficiency you may attract new, more environmentally-aware customers and employees who are impressed by your commitment to becoming ‘greener’.”

PHS Washrooms has developed a water and energy saving range plus a calculator on the company’s website that allows customers to assess the savings they make by using them.
“The washroom is somewhere that energy saving schemes can easily be put into action by installing products that are economical with water and power, yet still deliver the best performance and hygiene standards,” says Reynolds.

She feels that ecolabels and other sustainable certifications will become increasingly important in future. “Proving your ‘green’ credentials through third party endorsements and independently verified research will become a major focus,” she said.

Kärcher environmental PR David Wickel feels that ecolabels will increase in importance in the future. “They help us to recognise which products are sustainable and avoid the issue of customers becoming lost in a plethora of information,” he said. “That is why we introduced the eco!efficiency label for our especially energy-efficient products.”

Like other manufacturers he feels that energy efficiency and resource economy will be among tomorrow’s key sustainability topics. “Companies can achieve these goals in a variety of ways, for example by increasing motor and turbine efficiency, optimising flows, processing modern materials and improving operability,” he said.

He agrees with other manufacturers that saving water is a crucial issue and one that is very important for Kärcher. “Reducing water consumption when using a machine while simultaneously enhancing its cleaning performance and user-friendliness is a central aspect of our product development,” he said.

Working from home

According to Euroliance’s international marketing director Sebastiaan Parqui, remote working is set to become more important in future.  “Employees are increasingly motivated to work from home on some days, and this helps companies to cut cleaning, energy and office space costs,” he said.

A current ‘green priority’ for Euroliance –a co-operative group of pan-European service companies - is the prevention of accidents and occupational diseases. The organisation also focuses on improving travel efficiencies. However, Parqui adds that today’s sustainability priorities vary from client to client and from country to country.

“Reducing water usage contributes to the preservation of natural resources, but this is more of an issue in southern countries in Europe rather than in northern nations,” he said. He feels that one of today’s biggest sustainability changes concerns an increasing tendency of companies to integrate sustainability into every work process. “At Euroliance, sustainability is a way of life and in tender processes we notice that more and more questions are asked about our ‘green policy’,” he said.

Ecover marketing coordinator Lies Marijnissen agrees that water and resource security will be key sustainability issues of the future. “With a population growing towards nine billion people and the general change in consumer habits in developing economies such as China and India, the pressure on resources will be enormous,” she said.

“On top of that, petrol will become scarcer and scarcer. Biomass will in many cases provide a good alternative, but this will create even more pressure on resources. For all rare earth metals, recycling and even urban mining will become the norm. And the concept of waste will finally become redundant, even if it is out of necessity.”

She says the scarcity of water will also be an issue. “Today water has become a key topic since nearly one billion people lack access to clean water,” she said. “Although water is a renewable resource, it is also a finite one: only 2.53 per cent of Earth’s water is fresh and some two-thirds of that is locked up in glaciers and permanent snow cover. There is a very real danger of future global water shortages.”

She feels that ecolabels are receiving growing recognition and are increasingly important in public tenders. “In some cases your product even needs an ecolabel in order to be able to participate,” she said. “But there are many different ecolabels today and these sometimes use opposing criteria: for example, some focus on plant-based ingredients while others focus on performance while allowing petrochemical ingredients.”

Sustainability trends are changing all the time according to Bio-Productions managing director Mike James – and he feels that companies only buy into the concept of sustainability when the price is right or when external conditions show a specific need.

“For instance, water-saving systems became a trend in the UK about three years ago when we had a drought, and they are of ongoing interest in countries such as Australia and India where water is scarce,” he said.  “But water only becomes important when you don’t have any. When it is available simply by turning on a tap, customers tend to be less concerned about saving it.”

Packaging a concern

He feels that ecolabels are not necessarily the way forward because these use a variety of different standards to assess products for their sustainability. “When you see bleaches and cream cleaners endorsed as being environmentally-friendly, it doesn’t fill me with any confidence,” he said. “I also know of two chemical companies that have designed their own environmental badges in-house so that these now look as though they are a third-party endorsement.”

Reducing packaging should be a future concern, says James, but many companies are unwilling to switch from their current systems. “We have been working for some years on developing a recyclable bag-in-a-box system for supplying chemical products, but we can’t interest the market in it – they are more interested in a trigger spray that they can throw away,” he said.

In fact according to James, value for money will be a key driver in future sustainable solutions. “At the end of the day, any decision is going to be financially-led - and if it costs a company more money to do something sustainable, then they won’t do it,” he said.


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