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Cleaning - the quest to be green and lean10th of March 2014
Is it possible to combine a sustainability policy with real cost savings? We ask companies their views and find out which “green” policies have cost them money – and which have paid for themselves.
No-one is in any doubt these days that pursuing a policy of green cleaning is an ethical way to do business. However, an increasing number of organisations are finding that sustainability is also a smart way of working since it can cut down on costs associated with energy, water use and waste disposal.
When companies rationalise their transport, too, they can cut their fuel bills. And by minimising the amount of packaging they use they can reduce the cost of raw materials – while their end-customers cut their waste bills.
Diversey Care, part of Sealed Air, confirms that sustainability and cost savings can often go hand in hand. One example is the company’s zero waste-to-landfill programme according to global marketing director Irina Klemps.
“The scheme has resulted in a 72 per cent improvement in plastic waste recovery compared with 2003,” said Klemps. “In 2012, 67 per cent of Sealed Air facilities reached its zero waste-to landfill goals and we used or captured 97 per cent of our plastic raw material.”
The company has also invested 10 million euros in a bid to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25 per cent – an investment that is forecast to provide savings of over 23 million euros by the end of the commitment period.
“The steps we took included everything from switching to the most fuel-efficient vehicles in class to upgrading our buildings and manufacturing facilities,” said Klemps. “We switched to more efficient boilers and air conditioning systems; we carried out lighting retrofits and we installed combined heat and power systems along with wind turbines to reduce energy impact. We also worked closely with suppliers and offered tools and sustainable solutions to customers to help them become more resource-efficient and less reliant on energy while also saving them money.”
Meanwhile, Sealed Air has been working towards reducing its water use. “All these commitments have required investment, but through using less water and energy and by generating less material waste and fewer emissions we have saved our company money - both in terms of direct resources and utilities and in regulatory costs,” said Klemps.
Examples of measures that have combined sustainability with savings include the installation of high efficiency lighting at the company’s manufacturing facility in Enschede, the Netherlands. “This reduced our electricity use by 10.7 per cent in a single year while a change from steam to hot water heat for some factory operations should reduce the use of natural gas at the plant by around 28 per cent despite higher production volumes,” said Klemps.
The company also focuses on product innovations that bring sustainability and cost benefits to itself and the customer. “This year we will be launching an ultra-concentrate designed to enable users to introduce sustainable cleaning into their operations,” she said.
“In a typical building around 85 per cent of daily cleaning tasks can be completed using these concentrates, and this would result in around 55 per cent fewer products being needed. It would also lead to a 60 per cent reduction in chemical consumption by volume while plastic packaging would be reduced by 65 per cent and cardboard by 50 per cent.”
Nilfisk-Advance sustainability business development manager Emmet Sharghbin says several of his company’s sustainability measures have saved money. “One example is in our Central European plants where we have installed wells and water recycling units for our testing centres,” he said. “This enables us to use recycled clean water.
“Several of our cost-saving initiatives – such as the installation of automatic factory gates and improvements to heating insulation - not only reduce costs but also improve employees’ conditions.”
The company also expects to reduce transport costs through an upgrade to supply chain set-up. “We are also examining how to expand the scope of our collaboration with the recyclers so that we can recycle even more of our customers’ well-used products.”
He says that while these measures enable the company to achieve cost savings, some of the money is used for R&D to continue developing sustainable products while much of the rest is passed on to customers through lower prices. “Our industry is very cost-competitive so there is a continuous pressure for us to improve efficiency in all parts of our business.”
Ecolab has adopted its own Environmental Return on Investment approach (EROI) to ensure that sustainability and cost savings go hand in hand. “We document resource savings across a comprehensive set of sustainability categories,” said senior marketing manager communications Nick Burchell “By starting with what matters most to our customers – performance – and by linking performance outcomes to environmental and social metrics and cost savings we demonstrate the triple-bottom-line benefits of sustainability.
“Through EROI outcomes we help customers see the value of our solutions and measure their progress. “
He says examples of Ecolab’s sustainable products that save money include the Wash and Walk enzymatic floor cleaner programme which is claimed to reduce energy use; and the company’s Aquanomic laundry programmes that use low-temperature chemistry to save both water and energy.
“Our Oasis Pro high-concentrated housekeeping programmes also reduce packaging waste by up to 90 per cent, while our Apex warewashing system saves water and energy use through lower operating temperatures and reduced need for rewash,” said Burchell.
Kärcher’s sustainability aim is to reduce energy consumption while increasing performance and user-friendliness says the company’s environmental matters public relations officer Linda Laipple. “Only when cleaning equipment delivers a very good performance will the user save time – along with water, energy and cleaning agent,” she said. “Reduction of noise emissions also plays an important part, as does the optimisation of products with regard to durability, recycling and repair capability combined with an assured supply of spare parts.”
She claims Kärcher’s mid-range hot-water pressure washers to be a case in point. “Their water temperature can be varied on demand from 20° to 155°C to work energy efficiently,” she said. “Since much soiling is easily removed at temperatures of around 60°C, this eco!efficiency mode can reduce fuel consumption by 20 per cent while precise dosing of agent ensures economy.”
Head of marketing at Hako Ralf-Hendrik Steinkühler says his company’s cleaning machines also combine increased efficiency with sustainability benefits.
“Hako AquaControl, for example, saves up to 50 per cent on water and cleaning agents while Hako Chemical on Demand ensures that chemicals are only used when necessary,” he said. “And Hako AquaForce enables many applications to be carried out entirely without chemicals by using purified water instead.”
He says the company is developing a range of high concentrates which are claimed to reduce the cost of cleaning while also saving on transport, storage and disposal costs. “Hako machines are also generally supplied configured and ready for operation which means the batteries are already installed – and this saves packaging materials,” he said. “And the direct delivery of our machines to the customer’s job site saves transport costs and minimises environmental pollution.”
However, sustainability is not only about conserving fuel, power, water and other natural resources. It also means fielding a team of happy, healthy employees and giving something back to the community. Truly sustainable companies are therefore prepared to invest in projects that facilitate this – whether they receive a return on their investment or not.
For example, many sustainability initiatives undertaken by Nilfisk-Advance provide the company with no direct cost benefits at all says Emmet Sharghbin. “We have a policy to reduce the small number of minor work injuries our colleagues incur from time to time to zero, and while this may cost us money in the short term we see it as an investment in our employees and our operations,” he said.
“Furthermore we support and sponsor local communities in countries where we have found worthy causes, and we regard this as an investment in our local communities’ support. One example is in our US operations where staff donate their time to help local charitable causes, and another is in Eastern Europe where we have donated cleaning machines to local schools to improve sanitary conditions.”
Kärcher also invests in a range of corporate social responsibility projects. “In 2013 we supported more than 700 schools, clubs and other groups by donations of machines or money,” said Laipple. The company also supports a waste water recycling project in Columbia and is sponsoring the protection of the yellow-bellied toad.
Hako is continually investing in measures to improve ergonomics in the workplace,” said Steinkühler. “Workstations where the final inspection of machines is carried out are equipped with noise-encapsulated test booths since occupational safety and health are top-ranking subjects at Hako.”
Diversey provides relief in disaster-hit areas such as the Philippines, says Klemps. “We also train our customers’ staff and management teams in safety and hygiene-related matters to protect their lives and those of their customers,” she said.
“We do not view these as measures that require costs, but as investments that will enable our company to create a better way for life. These measures are investments in our employees, our facilities and the communities in which we operate and that commitment takes many forms - from an emphasis on employee safety and the sustainability of our offices to the well-being of our communities.
“Solutions that protect our people, the environment and our communities and help us to provide a better way of life make business sense – and they also deliver our responsibility for a sustainable future.”