ECJ 20th birthday - looking back at industry trends

15th of March 2013
ECJ 20th birthday - looking back at industry trends

European Cleaning Journal, the only pan-European magazine for the professional cleaning sector, celebrates its 20th birthday this month. Since February 1993 ECJ has been a vital source of information, comment and news for Europe’s cleaning professionals. To celebrate our birthday, we
look back at the key trends affecting the industry over the last 20 years, with the help of some of the best-known names in the industry.


Markus Asch, Kärcher

Our industry has developed in a highly professional manner. This has meant that companies are employing R&D tools and manufacturing techniques that are used in leading industries such as automotive engineering.

In terms of products,  the use of electronics has made cleaning machines easier to use and their use more efficient. Modern RFID technology today facilitates individualised access to machine functions, and that makes handling them much easier. Technical advances in control unit circuit boards have, for example, made platform concepts and modular design of entire equipment series possible. I am sure that there is more to come.

The consistent reduction of energy consumption in cleaning technology, without compromising cleaning performance, has also been an important breakthrough.

We have managed to successfully combine innovation with sustainability. Being sustainable has become increasingly important and all stakeholders have recognised the relevance of this. Energy and resource efficiency are most important in many respects – in equipment use, in the choice of materials for machine components and in the manufacturing process.

Cleaning is a very complex business. You can only come up with a cleaning solution that not only provides a great-looking clean but also contributes to maintaining the value and caring for the object that needs to be cleaned and of course protects the people that live and work in the object.

In the light of this, the fact that our industry has no scientific basis is a shortfall: cleaning is not dealt with scientifically or taught at any universities. I also see scope for improvement in interaction between market players. Manufacturers and users still do not cooperate sufficiently to jointly achieve the best possible result.

We have identified the megatrends for the next few decades. Now what we have to do is draw the right conclusions for our industry. We will have to focus particular attention on growing urbanisation; by the middle of the century, the majority of the world’s population will be living close to one another in megacities. We will have to start thinking from scratch again!


Joergen Jensen, Nilfisk-Advance

From a customer perspective there is no doubt that the increased automation of the cleaning process is a key trend. This has led to an ever increasing demand for new applications and more efficient cleaning equipment. Our customers in need of professional cleaning equipment have always been much focused at getting high quality products and service to ensure that they can perform their work and achieve their business objectives, and this demand for quality products which are easy to work with, efficient and reliable is still a core demand. Another general trend is the demand for more compact products.

From an industry perspective the consolidation trend has continued, the large industry players become bigger in size based on organic growth and acquisitions. This consolidation trend is bound to continue as the demand for attractive prices and continuous product development is increasing. Only the large players in our industry will be able to offer this to the customers.

I would say the professionalisation of our industry is one of the most positive changes. I’ll give you some examples. How we handle customers and engage in close partnerships; customers are our professional business partners and we must constantly innovate our business to strengthen theirs. How products are developed utilising new technologies, and how the performance of the products are constantly improved while minimising environmental impact – getting sustainability on the cleaning agenda.

20 years ago, I am sure that most people would have expected that cleaning would be performed by robots. That has not happened. Even if it would have been nice it is however also clear why it did not. A good technology has been lacking and robot technology is still very expensive.

I believe that clear measures for cleaning standards and efficient robot technology would definitely help our customers and also ensure that they can deliver a better cleaning result and achieve their business objectives. We are convinced that the increasing dialogue with customers will continue and will be further strengthened.


Peter Ankerstjerne, ISS

Over the past 20 years the cleaning industry has become more professionalised while new technologies, regulations and customer requirements have reshaped the business.

Contracts have been consolidated into global, regional and national deals and moving towards bundling of services. General awareness of the need for sustainability has been accelerating and is becoming more important, and will continue to be so in the next decade. Sustainability challenges include energy usage, water and waste management and indoor ecology.

The continued increase in the delivery of integrated facility services has become increasingly demanded by customers across the globe. Cleaning services is an important part of the Integrated facility services delivery and a key platform for integration with our other services.

Improved training, development and career opportunities for management and operatives and improved engagement with employees generating motivation and retention has also been a step forward.

Customers have become smarter about sustainability and look more actively for sustainable solutions. They will continue to become more interested in how the products and the services they buy are produced and delivered. It has become a key factor that the services are delivered in a responsible way.

More research done within greener cleaning has led to positive changes in the cleaning industry. For instance, by using more innovative cleaning machines, technologies such as microfibres and by use of environmentally friendly cleaning products, it is now possible to make sizeable reductions in the amount of water and cleaning chemicals consumption.

In addition, through more effective equipment and materials, the level of efficiency is much higher than some years ago.

Innovation plays a key role for example within ergonomic cleaning equipment which helps to ensure employees’ health and their well-being.

Another important positive change has been the shift from night time to day time cleaning which has benefitted from reduction of use of lights and heat which reduce energy consumption and emissions.

The industry has needed to improve its standards of professionalism and adjust to a much more competitive environment. In addition, the industry has been lacking cross border cooperation in terms of innovation and training and education of management and front line workers.

Fortunately, there is an increase in the prevalence of training. This has helped to improve engagement and lead to ‘sense of purpose’. People are beginning to see the possibilities of cleaning as a career instead of just a job.  There will be a reinforcement of the awareness that people are key in cleaning services and processes.

I would like to see the industry continuing to bring cleaning and green cleaning on the agenda. Moreover, I would like to see that the industry continues to move forward in producing innovative certified and environmentally friendly products, as well as ergonomically friendly equipment. Such equipment supports better working methods, health and the well-being of employees and it can also have a positive effect in enabling elderly employees to stay even longer in their job.

No doubt that the cleaning industry will evolve over the coming decade. The sustainability challenge is a moving target and includes new challenges for which we are currently unaware. It has become a key factor that services are delivered in a responsible way. Quality and decency is critical in our business, even more so than price and efficiency. It is essential for the cleaning industry to consider keywords like image, resource consumption and health and safety. All of them have a positive effect on the bottom line.

One of the major trends for the future will be a greater use of IT-based systems to optimise cleaning especially to communicate with staff and enable more ‘self-service’ and interaction. I think we should expect to see more widespread use of robotic equipment over the next 20 years. I also think that chemical technology will be improved in terms of their effectiveness and impact to the environment and also new types of chemicals within bio- and nano technology is still in its early days and in time could lead to improvements.


Andrew Large, CSSA and WFBSC

To my mind, the development of daytime cleaning is the most significant development. Daytime cleaning is the key to the industry building its reputation and the visibility of the services it provides.

Improved treatment of cleaners is the most positive change – wages and conditions have improved in recent years.

But the cleaning industry is still perceived as a commodity service, to be purchased on the basis of price and clients do not appreciate the value of cleanliness.

I would like to see a greater understanding and financial value placed on cleanliness – delivered by a professional and more technologically advanced industry using mechanical equipment and novel chemicals to the best of their ability.


José del Pino, INPACS

The major trend over the past two decades was definitely  globalisation, causing a rigorous consolidation of all leading players. In the cleaning industry, manufacturers and customers have been heavily affected by this development, acquisitions and mergers have drastically reduced the number of distributors. This will probably continue more in southern Europe with its highly fragmented markets.

Another important process has been the opening up of the eastern European markets leading to significant growth over the past 20 years.

Sustainability demands become more and more decisive, being reflected in various aspects within the professional cleaning industry like ecological product solutions and ethical work conditions across the entire supply chain.

The professionalisation of processes and services via ISO standards and electronic solutions connecting suppliers with end-users is an important development. Globally rising hygiene standards are approaching heterogenetic markets and allow a certain standardisation while preserving specifications on a local level.

Globalisation has brought forward strong relationships in terms of cooperation as well as network building both on a national and international basis.

However, there is still on-going inequality of cleaning standards in different countries. There are markets with a high level of sophistication demanding complex cleaning solutions and others focusing merely on basic standardised products.

We assume that despite the diversity, certain global standards for professional cleaning will eventually be established.

The e-commerce sector will definitely be more important. It will drive comparability and help and drive professionalisation through the whole industry.


Roberto Berardi, ETS

Certainly the last 20 years have seen a positive development in the usage of single use products, such as paper towels and cleaning wipers, which have unique capabilities to deliver high quality performances and maximise the levels of hygiene.

The quality, value and sustainability of tissue products have also improved over the years. The paper sector has also evolved in its capability to use recycled materials and now over 70 per cent of the paper used in Europe is collected for recycling.

In the hand drying sector, improved no-touch paper dispensers and superior quality paper towels have been developed, resulting in perfectly dry hands with improved hygiene, while also reducing consumption at the same time.

Discussions about which hand drying system is the most effective and the most hygienic have been endless, even creating confusion in the minds of decision makers. I think we as an association and the media in general should do a better job at increasing public awareness of the importance of hand hygiene to reduce cross contamination and emphasise the importance of using a truly hygienic hand drying system.


Ralf-Henrik Steinkühler, Hako

Building managers continuously put contractors under pressure to try and reduce building cleaning costs, resulting in shortened cleaning hours to save labour costs.

The share of outsourcing in professional cleaning has increased. More than 65 per cent of building cleaning is contracted to service providers in Europe.

One positive development is that more and more machines are used to increase quality and efficiency.

What is required today is finding economical solutions without sacrificing quality: which machine requires little set-up time and provides long running time? How can I save costs and protect the environment at the same time by saving water, energy, detergents and parts?

Innovative concepts and modern machines (for example small ride-on machines) ensure an increased economic efficiency and are environmentally-friendly.

However some building owners have focused on reducing costs to such an extent that they have neglected the idea of high quality cleaning.

I would like to see professionalism increase in order to further promote the concept of sustainability instead of short-term cost-optimisation.


Peter Holt, consultant

Daytime cleaning is the most significant development. It requires a ranger of battery powered equipment which is becoming more relevant.  It has made some impact but it has yet to become the norm throughout the commercial sector.

Green chemicals and energy saving equipment have begun to drive the sector into the 21st century. There is a long way to go but this trend deserves to succeed.

Manufacturers are criticised for the perceived lack of innovation.  However, there is a lot of innovation out there which depends upon the will of senior managers and supervisors to extract the full benefit of new development. Initiatives are tried, but when they fail on the first attempt, as they usually do, they are then dismissed as too difficult.

I would like to see the development of a career based structure that helps operatives move forward in the industry. Better recognition of the role of the cleaner will only truly be achieved when, at least, the liveable wage becomes the true minimum wage. The productivity required to finance this will be totally dependent on the client.


Chris Duncan, Numatic

In the very simplest of terms the last 20 plus years has seen the whole of the cleaning industry make a concerted effort to improve both the standard of cleaning and equally to address the real need to advance the efficiency of the process so as to counterbalance the increasing labour costs of outdated working practices which have been with us for years.

The professional vacuum cleaner is 10 times better than a broom and the substantial growth in the use of scrubber dryers has changed the approach to large area hard floor maintenance forever.

These are but two examples but great progress has been made in nearly every field of cleaning, all designed to raise the standards and awareness of professional cleaning.

Next on the agenda is energy conservation.  Just take the motor car industry for example.  Years ago we would never have talked about 60mpg, 70mpg, 90mpg but today it’s a reality, and the same applies to cleaning.  Improved design and efficiency can still save vast amounts of money and, in this respect, the industry can play its part in reducing its carbon footprint.

In 30 years we have learned how to do it better and now we need to concentrate on getting equal or better results without an energy penalty in the years to come.


Michele Redi, IPC Ready System

In my opinion the cleaning industry has changed a great deal but these changes have been mainly in design of the different products, technology applied especially on the machines, approach to customers, certification and regulation rather than true revolutions. In the equipment sector we have seen the introduction of many novelties (such as microfibre, plastic trolleys instead of metal ones, etc ).

Now I would say the trend is to produce items with a good design and reduced manufacturing costs in order to be price competitive in the market. Quality and service are of course musts.
There is now more attention to hygiene in general, with user-friendly machines and tools, less chemical used and less waste in the environment.

The cleaning world is basically a small one where everyone knows each other. If you left this world 10 years ago and came back today you would probably meet the same people, maybe in a different position. But we should be able to do things more quickly, we cannot have a proper revolution in the sector because of many reasons which vary from country to country.

We now often have to cope with spending cuts which inhibit growth. But at the same time the cleaning world is still in good health despite the adverse economic situation worldwide.


Ruediger Schroeder, Roots Multiclean

The cleaning industry has developed a really professional approach over the last 20 years. The FMC’s have increased the standards of cleaning and hygiene tremendously whereas the manufacturers of cleaning equipment have developed better, cheaper, more operator friendly and more ecofriendly machines. In addition the product offering has increased so much that for every job  a nearly perfect machine can be bought.

The most positive change has been the development from simple machine solutions to comprehensive systems operating with less energy, better cleaning results and more environmental awareness.

Cleaning is still very labour intensive - one  part of that is architects still don’t take the follow-up cost of cleaning into their design stages As expectations of cleanliness and hygiene standards are increasing this issue has to be addressed.

The cleaning machine industry will continue to be a mixture between worldwide operating companies and smaller entrepreneur driven regional ones. This will bring new innovative products and systems to the market with better features, less energy required and better operator comfort. However I also see robotics coming into the cleaning field in the next 20 years.


Sebastiaan Parqui, Euroliance

The trends that we see are the need for and use of green cleaning products (biodegradable microfibre for example) and the integration of sustainability, the increase in the need for bundling FM and MS services and a growth in productivity.

All of these changes are positive. What stands out is the increase in the need for green products and integrating sustainability. For example the introduction of microfibre has revolutionised the delivery of basic cleaning (sweeping and wiping).

Robotic has never really broken through despite numerous attempts.

We would like to see more of an integration of the cleaning component. For example the structure of the building (choice of self-cleaning materials or easily cleanable, built buildings with dust removal by vacuum tunnels and robotics, etc).


Sergio Pupkin, Diversey

The most significant developments have been those that have helped manufacturers and end users improve their operational efficiency:

• Dosing and dispensing technology, allowing for increased concentration and an improved cost in use of chemical products, plus a significant increase in user safety.

• High productivity methods like microfibres and increased mechanisation.

All these things have helped our industry optimise financial resources and improve profitability in order to remain competitive.

There have been many positive changes:

• The development and commercialisation of new disinfection compounds several times safer and more sustainable, like quats and oxygen peroxide, allow mankind to better fight pandemics.

• Food safety is one of the key developments for the away-from-home business. With all the kitchen hygiene methods, HACCP processes and training available, the world is a  safer place thanks to our industry.

• People (customer and employee) safety. According to the International Labour Organisation, cutting, fractures, burns and other personnel, work-related injuries take more than 180 million people away from their workplace annually. However, today our industry is safer than ever thanks to fewer hazards from chemicals, ergonomics, machines and better training to improve personnel performance and well-being.

Daytime cleaning is a significant change, not only because it allows cleaning professionals to have a daytime life, but also because it reduces energy use and it is more sustainable.

There have been some areas lacking:

• Addressing the needs of developing economies with affordable products, and mass market educational efforts for cleaning and hygiene standards.

• More consistent global regulatory frameworks. More consistent environmental standards.

What I would like to see in the future:

• Sustainability, caring for the environment, reducing the footprint of cleaning operations.

• Leverage ubiquitous Internet and communication to continue increasing productivity methods.

• Automation to reduce effort and continuing the professionalisation of cleaning.

• Equalisation of infection control and food safety across different geographies, helping reduce food waste, and cleaning for health to reduce infections.

• Addressing the needs of developing nations, future engine of global population and economy. Prepare the industry for a massively populated world.


Keith Baker, ISSA

Better training and wider certification have been hallmarks over the past 20 years without doubt, but it is the sheer volume and diversity of innovation that are top of mind.

For example in this time frame, microfibre products became available and are now widely used. We also saw the advent of detergent concentrates, which are now used throughout the industry reducing packaging and storage, and providing efficient dosing.

The COSHH regulations in particular have been a great step forward. They have been crucially important in delivering greater user awareness of techniques to avoid or minimise contact with harmful substances and minimise leaks and spills plus and they have also ensured sound control and storage of products.

The opening up of central and eastern Europe as well as South Africa is not only a major political issue, but the soaring professionalism and spirit of innovation in these areas has brought huge commercial opportunities for our industry.

Looking back at the past two decades, one thing that really strikes me is that there has not been enough good calibre people staying in the industry. Another area where arguably we have not done as well as we should is arriving at a common definition of what green is. The absence of such a universally accepted definition has created confusion in the minds of buyers and users and allowed so called ‘green-wash’ marketing to flourish.

I believe this will be the dawn of a new era when our great industry will finally get the recognition that it deserves for its vital role in virtually every facet of existence.


Cor van der Velden, consultant

Developments and trends in the cleaning industry in Holland have been the emergence of  ‘advisors’, quality measurement systems and European tendering. While there are many bona fide advisors, there are even more charlatans, giving the cleaning industry a bad name.

The spiral of underbidding still continues, only the large companies being able to decline these tenders. Sometimes I get the feeling that the Dutch cleaning industry is more concerned with measuring quality than actually cleaning.

Positive changes have been codes of conduct, and a committee that concerns itself with those companies and (prospective) clients who do not obey the code. Also, the Dutch cleaners’ strike only a few years ago was a positive development They did not especially ask for more wages but for recognition, and an end to idiotic and impossible working speeds. The code of conduct followed this strike.

One way change has been lacking is interesting young people in the cleaning profession. When I stumbled into the cleaning industry 40 years ago they were talking about it, and they still are!
What I would like to see is the a breakthrough on price cutting and unrealistic underbidding.

Cleaning companies should not accept unrealistic working speeds or hourly rates. But clients are guilty there too, accepting tenders with unrealistic figures, from which they can be sure of being cheated.


Rob den Hertog, Amsterdam RAI

Today’s trade shows have a growing international overview. Where we used to have regional suppliers, current shows offer more global operating manufacturers. With more and more focus on seminars and demonstrations, exhibitions tend to develop into events. Maintaining and building relationships and networking instead of only displaying products.

Another interesting trend is that companies send fewer people to trade shows - 20 years ago the average number of employees per company was around four, the average now has dropped to 1.4.

Since trade shows compete for time, organisers need to validate why the visitors’ time is well spent. The most important argument is that visitors will be able to meet so many contacts face to face, see all the latest products and try them.

As a result of reduced budgets manufacturers will select their trade show participation more carefully. ROI expectations and the reach of (potential) customers are higher than ever before.

Also visitors will be more critical, they will ask themselves where they can meet and see the most potential suppliers.

Many opportunities will come for this industry to show its value in preventing health related issues and also demographic changes will lead to new products, innovative solutions and services.


Andreas Lill, EFCI

From a European perspective, the most significant development and predominant trend in the professional cleaning industry over the past 20 years is the continuous trend to outsourcing, whereby supporting and ancillary services in administrations and companies, previously done in-house, are awarded to external contractors.

Indeed, the new edition of the EFCI industry survey that is published since 1989 gives a clear picture in this regard. While at the beginning of the 90ies the outsourcing rate was at 43%, it increased to 58 per cent in the beginning of this century and is now at 65 per cent on average in Europe.

In addition, continuous diversification of activities towards integrated services and facilities management are now a reality throughout Europe. This is increasingly pushing in particular larger companies to offer their clients facilities management and support services rather than simple cleaning services.

For smaller companies, especially SME's, this trend results in an increased pressure to offer more specialised cleaning services next to office cleaning.

One of the main improvements is that the whole industry it is nowadays recognised as a professional business offering concrete solutions to many different (public and private) clients. Over the last years, the interested public has begun to acknowledge the professionalism of the industry and the constant increase of services that are provided by external contractors.

This is certainly due to the coordinated action of national associations representing cleaning contractors, machine manufacturers and suppliers. Furthermore, in many countries closer ties have been established with training centers and other organisations related to the industry.

Next to this and as a consequence of the continuous trend to outsourcing, contract cleaning has grown steadily over the past 20 years. This dynamism of the sector is directly translated in terms of regular job creation. Indeed during the last 20 years, the industry recorded an annual growth of about five per cent on average.

According to the last edition of the survey , about 140,000 cleaning contractors, which are in majority small and very small organisations, employ more than 3.3 million workers with an annual turnover of about 62 billion euros.

Every European country has of course its own national context. However, from a European perspective there are some issues that are affecting the industry in a more or lesser extent in all countries. Those are issues that the EFCI is addressing at European level (next to national associations at national level).

The main political issue is to continue to make the industry known and taken into account by the decision makers at European level. The establishment of the EFCI in 1988 was a response to this challenge and quite a lot has been achieved since then. It is the service industries and not the industrial world that create employment and growth.

Services account for about 70 per cent of the GDP in Europe. It is therefore essential to create a positive political and economical environment that helps to develop the full potential of the industry.

From a social perspective, there is the need to built consensus with workers and their representatives in order to create a positive business environment that helps to attract and to keep workers in the industry. The European social dialogue driven by the EFCI and its trade union counterpart UNI Europa is a response to this. The main challenges we face are: professional training, sickness leave (especially through ergonomic problems), turnover of personnel and, as being even more a threat in conjunction with the demographic change, the lack of personnel.

Several initiatives at national and European level have been taken, such as the promotion of daytime cleaning, improved training opportunities and, to quote a French example, liaising with schools, organising meetings with local football clubs etc. in order to attract young people. All these initiatives certainly help to create a better image of the industry among the interested public.

In addition, other services increase the demand for a flexible and adaptable workforce and reduce the number of available workers. They can consequently chose the industry they want to work in and often tend to choose those sectors where they find a more stable work environment with less part-time jobs.

In financial terms, it is first of all the continuous trend to outsourcing that mainly created the strong position the industry is in. On the other side, increased and sometimes unfair competition tends to decrease margins in many European countries. Contracts (private and public) are still mostly awarded on the lowest price criterion despite the many initiatives taken at European and national level.

The EFCI best value guide demonstrates very well that the constant recourse to price based competition works to the detriment of quality and financial stability of cleaning contractors. There is the strong need to make clients understand that the purchase of quality services, delivered by cleaning professionals, is an investment and must be considered as such.

Already today, the cleaning industry is suffering from lack of personnel in some countries. This trend will aggravate in the future and it will be of utmost importance that business will adapt policies to the new reality of ageing. Establishing work opportunities for older workers with continued efforts in livelong learning as well as increasing the attractiveness of the cleaning industry in order to keep workers in the industry will be the keys to respond the future challenges.

The constant trend to outsourcing and facilities management will also have a big impact on future developments. Contractors will have to stay flexible and recognise new business opportunities. The industry will have to continue to raise its image to be attractive for workers and to be even better recognised as an industry that creates jobs and offers solutions for many different services.


Chris Klopper, Mulberry Marketing

One of the most notable changes has been the way that certainly the manufacturing and distributor communities in our industry have become much more marketing-savvy.

20 years ago many companies were engineering or production-led and consequently the power of marketing was often ignored with often it being a side or secondary function for either the sales director. With a lack of appreciation or support for marketing in those days we tended to see an industry stuck in a rather boring rut of poorly crafted, imprecisely targeted communications campaigns.

Nowadays virtually every company has a marketer at the top table and marketing dictates product innovations and price points. Communications campaigns have become massively more sophisticated and micro targeting is possible too. A
dditionally the range of communication channels available is wider than it has ever been and that trend will only increase in the years to come.

The launch of ECJ was also a seminal moment. Never before had manufacturers thought on a regional basis or even been particularly aware of what was happening outside their immediate national purview. ECJ crystalised such thinking and in many ways was a forerunner to, and a pioneer of, the move to global trading that has emerged in the industry over the past three or four years.




Our Partners

  • ISSA Interclean
  • EFCI
  • EU-nited