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Who cares if you’re ‘green’?25th of March 2015
Companies worldwide have been proclaiming their ‘green’ credentials over the past few years and the cleaning and hygiene sector has been no exception. But do customers actually care about ‘greenness?’ We ask companies their views.
The attitude towards ‘green’ and ‘sustainable’ companies is changing all the time. In the past, many people considered the environmentally-friendly brigade to be nothing more than worthy, tree-hugging cranks. But over the years it has become second nature for us to recycle and reuse wherever we can in order to aid the environment while also avoiding waste and saving money.
Many cleaning manufacturers have been coming up with products that use less energy, fewer chemicals, less water and fewer hazardous elements. They are therefore positioning their products as being sustainable or ‘green’. But how far does the sustainability of a product actually convince a customer to buy?
Diversey Care global marketing director Irina Klemps says her company’s customers make their buying decisions based on a combination of factors, and not sustainability alone. “Quality is key,” she said. “If a product does not perform it will not be purchased, and that goes for a green product as well as a standard one. The price is attached to the value of a product and a higher sustainable profile will not justify a higher price: other features such as the safety of cleaning staff might be valued more highly.
“We also offer our customers consulting services about sustainability to enable them to calculate their sustainability savings when migrating from one product to another or for their total site.”
According to Klemps the majority of customers are unwilling to pay extra for a sustainable offer, though she adds that some countries and regions value green cleaning more than others.
“Some are driven by legal obligations and others by the public and the media,” she said. “Examples are the Nordic region which has a very distinct approach to not incorporating dyes or perfumes in their products and in using the Nordic Swan to certify chemicals.”
The hospitality sector tends to be particularly interested in sustainability, says Klemps. “This is because its end users – the hotel guests - are also interested in that topic,” she said.
As an example she quotes the Accor hotel group, one of Diversey Care’s customers. “The group is aiming to ensure that a large percentage of its bought-in products and services come with high sustainability claims in order to increase its environmental profile,” said Klemps.
Klemps believes that green products will become of even greater interest to customers in future. “Demand is increasing even though the perception of what is green or sustainable is not equal across country borders,” she said. “Currently we cannot detect one specific trend, but overall we find that our customers like to be more sustainable. The future will show exactly what this means for our industry.”
Bio-Productions’ ethos is to ensure all cleaning and maintenance products it produces are as safe to use as possible. “To this end we invariably end up with formulations that are less harmful to the operator/consumer and consequently less damaging to the environment,” said managing director Mike James. The company’s range includes cleaning agents made from natural ingredients plus hard-wearing floor polishes and maintainers that contain no solvents.
According to James it is hard to say how many of his company’s customers buy Bio-Productions’ products because of their perceived greenness. “We like to think customers buy our products because they work well and offer good value for money,” he said. “A cleaning agent can be as green as you like, but if it doesn’t work you will only buy it once.”
Efficacy is of paramount importance in the cleaning industry, says James. “When you consider that labour is still the most expensive part of any cleaning operation it makes little sense to keep buying products that require more energy - and the responsible use of energy is an important part of being green,” he said.
“If a product is weak you will require more energy to achieve the desired result, be it physical or from an electric motor or heater. However if a product contains a great deal of energy it will invariably do the job - even with cold water.”
When asked whether customers are becoming bored with the idea of sustainability he responds: “I’m not sure that ‘bored’ is the term, but maybe they are fed up with being charged more for green and being conned by some.”
According to James, interest in green products is higher in the public sector. “Without doubt there is more interest in being green and sustainable from people who seem to be spending other people’s money, while those at the front line - who can see the benefits or failures of products and policies - are more able to make informed decisions on what’s good and what is not.”
He adds that in the face of continued recession, cash will remain king. “If a product offers value for money it will inevitably sell.” However he feels there will continue to be a place for sustainable products in the future. “We believe that in this age of litigation there will be more concern over the adverse reactions operatives will have when using certain chemicals and products,” he said.
“Therefore we will continue in our target of protecting the consumer - and that way we can also help protect the environment.”
Hako’s regional manager for western Europe Clemens Douglas says sustainability is a key criterion for the company when preparing tenders for major service providers and large retail chains. “Our experience has shown that growing numbers of customers – depending on the product segment and customer group – are basing their purchasing decision on exactly that point,” he said. He adds quality and reliability are other key considerations. “However, for many customers our capability to provide a reliable service is even more important than the price of the technology.”
According to Douglas, the company has seen an increase in demand for green products and services. “People’s interest in machines and cleaning solutions that are both environmentally compatible and economically efficient is very high,” he said. “Many efficiency-increasing measures have a direct and positive effect on environmental protection and the preservation of resources, for example in reducing the consumption of water and cleaning agents for scrubber dryers.
“Economic efficiency and sustainability will remain important criteria when it comes to choosing a machine supplier.”
Kärcher’s environmental matters public relations officer Linda Schroedter says most of her company’s products incorporate green features. “Sustainability guides our thinking at Kärcher and we set great store by economic efficiency and environmental protection.”
She estimates that approximately a third of the company’s building service contractor customers in Germany choose Kärcher products because of their sustainability features. “Sustainability is becoming more and more important, but price is still the decisive factor for 95 per cent of building service buyers.”
Schroedter adds that it is still necessary to make both building service contractors and end customers aware that green cleaning is not only good for the environment but also saves time, detergents and other resources.
“While there is a great interest in green products and services, the industry is not yet pursuing them.”
However, she adds that the contract cleaning sector is, in fact, showing an increasing interest in sustainability. “This is because it is becoming more common for contract cleaners to share - or pay for – the energy element of the cleaning process,” says Schroedter.
“Also in the tendering procedure, some big companies explicitly ask building service contractors to use sustainable cleaning machines so they can use the resultant energy savings to market themselves as a sustainable company.
“More clients will understand the benefits of green cleaning and this will eventually change attitudes towards resource-saving cleaning.”