The Extinction Rebellion effect

13th of January 2020
The Extinction Rebellion effect
The Extinction Rebellion effect

Extinction Rebellion has captured the world’s imagination – but is it also causing a ripple effect in the cleaning sector? ECJ asks companies whether they have noticed a renewed urgency as far as sustainability is concerned, and what they believe is behind it.

Protests by Extinction Rebellion are constantly hitting the headlines these days. This group of environmentalists has repeatedly engaged in non-violent activities such as gluing themselves to banks and grounding passenger flights to demonstrate their concerns about issues such as fossil fuel investment and airport expansion plans.

Extinction Rebellion was formed online and first emerged into the public consciousness following a 1,500-strong protest in London’s Parliament Square in October 2018. However, its energy has been contagious and the group now claims to have thousands of members spanning the entire globe.

So, with a new urgency being lent to issues such as climate change and other environmental topics, have the ripples started to be felt in the cleaning sector?

Ecolab is one company that has certainly been seeing an increasing level of engagement about global challenges such as climate change, water scarcity, food security and public health according to marketing communications manager Gaëlle Petit.

“Whether it’s about saving water and energy or reducing waste and greenhouse gas emissions, there’s a growing realisation that these priorities go hand in hand with business growth and profitability,” she said. “In our business, we see the signs of progress all around us.”

Digital technology is delivering insights that were previously unavailable to many while also increasing demand for smart, sustainable solutions, she says. “At Ecolab we are privileged to be able to help drive these positive developments forward.”

According to Petit, Ecolab helped its customers worldwide save around 188 billion gallons of water in 2018. “That’s equivalent to the annual drinking water needs of 650 million people,” she said. “We are also on our way to achieving our 2030 goal of saving 300 billion gallons, and have helped customers to save 19 trillion British thermal units of energy while avoiding 2.4 billion pounds of greenhouse gas emissions and eliminating 54 million pounds of waste.”

Sense of urgency

Groups such as Extinction Rebellion have given rise to a strong sense of urgency for the global coalition to tackle issues such as climate change and water scarcity, she says. “It is important to raise awareness of these issues – particularly about the importance of smart water management to ensure that we don’t run out of fresh water,” she said.

“It is encouraging to see businesses around the world increasingly focusing on pressing issues such as climate change and water, but we also need to encourage greater action including the development of plans and execution of sustainable water management practices on a bigger scale to make a difference for the planet.”

Customers of machine manufacturer Tennant have also been asking for more information about the company’s sustainability practices over recent months, says global senior sustainability specialist Kate Powers.

“Many of these enquiries have been specific questions relating to the customer’s own sustainability goals,” she said. “These include everything from environmental management systems and certification to sustainability commitments, the recyclability of machines, the recycled content of our machines, carbon emissions from operations and energy saving projects.

“We’re also seeing an increasing number of customers beginning to include sustainability criteria in their buying processes and choosing machines that contribute to their company’s own sustainability goals and objectives.”

She believes there to be a number of reasons behind this change in focus. “We know our customers are reacting to media coverage of issues such as plastics in the oceans plus the change in market conditions for recycled materials,” she said. “For example, Chinese recycling businesses have recently refused to take soiled and contaminated recyclables from international markets.

“And our customers’ own clients are also asking similar questions and are requesting further information from their supplier base.”

She says Tennant in turn is seeking more detailed sustainability information from its own suppliers. “We’re working with our partners to ensure that we have good information from our supply chain, particularly with regard to topics such as waste and plastics, plastic use, plastic recyclability and the recycled plastic content in our machines,” she said.

As far as Tennant is concerned, today’s most pressing sustainability issues are those of the circular economy and carbon emissions associated with global warming.

Global trends

Sustainability is becoming something of a global trend according to Andreas Mayer, director management systems at Kärcher. “Every year we receive around five per cent more sustainability-related requests from our customers than in the previous year,” he said. “Sustainability today is
no longer limited to environmental protection – other topics such as social standards in the supply chain are also moving into focus.”

He says people worldwide are becoming more aware of the impact that issues such as climate change, ocean pollution and unsafe working conditions can have on all of us. “I think it’s these experiences that are causing the increase in interest and demand for sustainability,” he said.

While he believes all sustainability issues to be equally important he cites climate protection, ocean pollution and working conditions in the supply chain as particular focus areas. “Sustainability is one of our core values at Kärcher – and one that we believe is linked with economic success,” he said.

Today’s consumers are paying increasing attention to the impact of their day-to-day activities according to IPC communications manager Gabriella Bianco. “Many are assuming a sort of green attitude whenever and wherever they can,” she said. “Consequently, cleaning companies are being tasked with being more ethically responsible, minimising their use of resources and providing safer waste disposal as a relevant selling factor.”

Raising awareness

She feels that organisations such as Extinction Rebellion are raising awareness and promoting a greater public interest towards environmental issues along with the effects of climate change. “This is increasing people’s understanding of the importance of taking a more responsible approach towards our life habits,” she said.

“People are also gaining a greater understanding of the risks we are taking in depleting the Earth’s natural resources and damaging its ecosystems. This is prompting them to become more careful when generating waste since this can lead to issues such as plastics contaminating our oceans.”

IPC offers various sustainable solutions including the Black is Green range which incorporates up to 75 per cent of recycled plastic in products, and MSC technology which reduces energy consumption in high pressure machines.

According to Bianco, the cleaning industry has become highly sensitive to the ecological protection issue. “Policies aimed at increasing the use of green solutions and technologies are spreading: for example, the European Green Public Procurement (GPP) supports the adoption of environmental technologies and products with the lowest impact and the maximum respect for the environment,” she said.

TV programmes highlighting the damage caused by plastic waste are playing their own part in driving forward sustainability agendas, says managing director of Cromwell Polythene James Lee.

Action needed now

“It is right and encouraging that people are showing concern for the environment and the impacts that our actions have, and EU legislation is helping to drive change,” he said.

The company’s LowCO2t range of recycling sacks and bags are said to reduce the volume of plastic used while also cutting down on the energy required in the manufacturing process.

“Responsibly produced plastic can have a high recycled content  - up to 100 per cent - and can be reprocessed many times which not only saves virgin material but associated energy as well,” said Lee.

But whatever the reasons behind the growing focus on sustainability, companies are united in their belief that action needs to be taken – and their determination to play their part.

“It is vital that we work as a unit to find solutions that protect our environment, combat climate change and keep products in use for as long as possible while preventing the leakage of valuable resources from the circular economy,” said Lee.

Tennant’s Kate Powers says her company needs to turn the spotlight on to its own operations and work toward facility and fleet efficiencies. “These will have a significant impact on our environmental footprint,” she said. “We think companies such as ours can make a genuine impact by improving efficiencies and by changing our mindset to ensure that circularity is incorporated into all our products.”

And Ecolab’s Gaëlle Petit adds: “We must all work together to make the most of the opportunity that today’s growing interest in sustainability offers. If we seize it now, we can build an economy that offers sustainable growth for us all - without causing any additional harm to our planet.”


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