Sustainability - hitting the mark

5th of October 2020
Sustainability - hitting the mark

As the focus on environmental impact and sustainability becomes increasingly important, the cleaning industry has a major role to play. Sitemark’s Mike Boxall discusses how benchmarking can identify ways for cleaning teams to become more sustainable, cut down on waste and how businesses can turn waste and recycling into a revenue stream.

The cleaning industry is already making leaps forward in becoming greener by selecting more eco-friendly cleaning products and focusing on chemical-free cleaning. However, commercial cleaning companies continue to rely heavily on containers since every site requires a number of different cleaning products. In addition, the containers each must be small enough for an individual to carry and use.

This leads to a significant volume of waste as each product is used up and replaced. As a service required ubiquitously, the total waste produced by cleaning alone is vast. There is a positive side to this, however. Even relatively small developments in industry products and practices that reduce waste can have a huge impact.

The process of reducing waste need not place pressure on the industry; best-in-class waste management, whether managed internally or contracted out, is able to reduce waste to landfill by making an organisation more efficient. A growing number within the cleaning industry treat waste management and recycling as a central aspect of their corporate social responsibility (CSR) policies. However, determining the most efficient management strategy can be a challenge.

The UK’s Waste and Resources Action Programme is a charity with a vision of sustainable resource use. The organisation recommends industry benchmarking to set targets. When goals are set according only to internal reviews of management practice, what is seen as possible is severely limited by previous practices. In addition, no two reviews of management will ever be the same due to the dynamic nature of cleaning, so more data is needed for accurate comparisons.

Best-in-class benchmarking, on the other hand, will help to develop a more holistic view of what is possible within the sector. The practice enables the comparison of waste management and recycling performance on a like-for-like basis. Every aspect of the process can be considered. It also helps to have an outside company benchmark as it will be completely independent.

How can waste be reduced?

The practice of benchmarking directly identifies the efficacy of each aspect of waste management and recycling and can offer solutions for improvements. An initial, in-depth assessment will be carried out, positioning each element of the existing cleaning provision and analysing documentation, policies, and procedures. From here, an efficiency score can be provided, individual problem areas identified and solutions proposed and carried out.

Benchmarking rates of recycling, for example, can determine where the organisation is most and least successful, and identify more sustainable end of life solutions. In addition to the end of life solution itself, the distance it is from the client’s organisation has an impact. The further the waste has to travel, the less ‘green’ and the more costly the solution. Benchmarking of costs to various locations can help identify the fairest market rate for waste handling, allowing the client to find the most eco-friendly and cost-effective solution.

When carried out in depth, benchmarking can be used to look at each waste stream independently, allowing for the meticulous management of cost and environmental impact. Individual waste collection schedules can be compared and over-scheduling or over capacity of storage can be identified. Specification and schedule development, staff engagement programmes, cost improvements programmes, console configuration, equipment specification, tender processes, among others, can all be benchmarked.

Why benchmarking?

The strength of benchmarking lies in its broad data access and independent verification. Despite a wealth of building data, organisations often find their management in practice and its outcomes don’t add up to what’s on paper. A thorough benchmarking process will locate the ‘holes’ in a customer’s operating data, uncovering the inconsistencies between what’s written on the page and the reality on the ground. In addition, the ‘softer’ side to management can be considered; it may not be clear to an organisation how their culture, training, or onboarding practices are limiting them; benchmarking these against other organisations will reveal their true impact.

All streams into and out of the organisation can be considered, placing the client in a position to understand the impact of their suppliers and proactively choose to work with those that offer both the best value for money and environmental credentials. At the beginning of their life, products and services can have a valuable role in CSR, as an organisation choosing to work with more ethical suppliers can have an influence on the entire supply chain to work towards higher standards.

At the other end of their life, products can also have benefits. Benchmarking identifies how waste streams can be turned into revenue streams. Rather than simply recycling some of the most common forms of waste – cardboard, plastic wrap, aluminium, or paper – many organisations are selling them for a profit. White paper, pallet wrap, aluminium and steel all hold significant worth and are often undervalued by the organisations discarding them.

Once data has been collected from an array of sources in the industry, averages can be found and targets can be set. Waste production can be more accurately forecasted and designed out of the system where possible.

Waste levels can be compared between departments and against a benchmark as different individuals and groups move through the organisation and a target level can be set, ensuring that changes in staff and management do not lead to a drop in efficiency. In this way, benchmarking plays a role in the present and future of an organisation. However, a single benchmark will not remain relevant indefinitely.

As products, services, technologies and the practice of waste management develop, the benchmark will also move. While one-off benchmarking can provide some rapid and significant improvement, ongoing benchmarking is essential to identify and understand some of the more culturally ingrained inefficiencies and to see how an organisation develops.

The creation of concentrated cleaning products has been a crucial step to producing less waste from packaging but far more still needs to be done. Key to making the process more circular is identifying precisely where and why packaging is going to landfill if recycling or reusing is an option. The demand is clear - a cleaning company that provides environmentally friendly cleaning products has seen a 100 per cent increase in the sales of its refill products over the past year. By using data on best-in-class environmentally friendly cleaning solutions, organisations which are yet to reach their full potential can determine the best route toward sustainability.

Current benchmarking data suggests that in-house cleaning is more efficient on average, but contracted cleaning more often represents best-in-class. This means there is less risk in creating an in-house team but that team is unlikely to reach the best-in-class levels that external specialists provide. Understanding where a cleaning solution lies in comparison to its potential is incredibly important for any organisation, whether cleaning is in-house or outsourced.

The cleaning industry – alongside many others – is undoubtedly feeling the demand for more environmentally sustainable practices and this will only grow stronger. At the same time, there is an ever increasing demand for added value. Benchmarking is a means of factoring in all elements when determining the most appropriate solution.


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