The sustainability focus

22nd of November 2021
The sustainability focus

Climate change, waste reduction, energy savings, water conservation  - what are today’s most pressing sustainability issues? Ann Laffeaty asks industry representatives about their environmental priorities.

Sustainability, like everything else, is subject to trends. As a society we naturally react to the most immediate threats. For example, climate change has become a matter of urgency following the floods, wildfires and other events that have occurred worldwide over recent months.

Meanwhile, reports of plastic pollution have led to drives to clean up our oceans and reduce our use of plastic packaging. Global water shortages have sparked calls for solutions that reduce or remove the need for water. And concerns about the amount of waste we produce has resulted in enhanced levels of recycling.

Disposable products are regularly targeted in sustainability policies with calls to replace these with reusable options. And the chemicals industry is under constant pressure to modify products to make them more environmentally-friendly.

But the shift has changed during the global pandemic. Chemicals have proven to be highly effective at cleaning and sanitising public spaces. At the same time, disposable products in the form of masks, PPE and single-use wipes have become an important defence against Covid-19.

So what are today’s key sustainability focus areas? Has the pandemic led to a radical repositioning of companies’ environmental goals or do most businesses remain broadly on the same page regarding their sustainability targets?

Account manager for facilities management company Anabas, Jean-Patrick Judson has noted a general shift in focus following Covid-19. “Air quality is now the most important topic,” he said. “Climate change is very much in mind but there’s a heavy emphasis on recovery from the pandemic. A balance of both these issues is critical, and smart buildings will help to make tomorrow’s offices more efficient.”

He believes Covid-19 has pushed the topic of sustainability lower down the agenda for most companies. “Priorities will shift as things stabilise post-pandemic and sustainability will return to the top of corporate agendas,” he predicts.

“Clients are pushing hard to achieve their own sustainability goals which means FMs need to think outside the box. All decisions ultimately have a knock-on effect: for example, if paper cups are removed, is the dishwasher going to be used much more regularly? It’s essential to understand the impact.”

Anabas is taking steps to cut its paper usage, reduce commuting and deploy environmentally-friendly cleaning products, says Judson.

The pandemic has helped to crystallise the Churchill Group’s goals, according to environmental sustainability manager Daniela Eigner. “These are based around our Sustainability Charter and include pledges to reduce emissions, switch to renewable energy and minimise waste,” she said.

“We are also focused on actions that lead to a more circular economy and are working with our procurement and operational teams to drive product innovation, design out waste and work towards more sustainable service solutions.”

Climate change is hugely important and can no longer be ignored, according to Eigner. “As an FM provider we have an obligation and an opportunity to drive sustainability for our clients and support businesses in the fight against climate change,” she said.

“This has become a key focus area for us and in June this year we committed to setting science-based reduction targets for our carbon emissions.”

Climate change is also at the top of Kärcher’s agenda according to the company’s sustainability and energy manager Katrin Schmuck. “It affects us all and impacts on the way we live,” she says.

“Companies play a major role and need to adapt the way they work.” Kärcher’s sustainability strategy consists of three main planks: a zero emissions initiative, social responsibility and moves towards a circular economy.

“We are also committed to reducing plastic consumption,” says Schmuck. “This we achieve by increasing our use of recyclable plastics, minimising plastic in packaging and targeting zero plastic waste at our production plants.”

The company’s sustainability policy is constantly evolving, according to Schmuck. “Topics discussedin the media and in politics help us to shape our sustainability strategy,” she said. “For example, we have adapted our goals to achieve CO2 neutrality at all our production plants worldwide, and we have integrated a policy of closing loops while also reducing our use of virgin plastic.”

Climate change

The company is currently testing a new form of circular economy in London, she says. “We have a partnership with South London-based start-up Library of Things, a self-service system that allows people to hire retail devices at low cost,” she said.

“We are also constantly improving the energy efficiency of our products whether they are powered by cable, rechargeable battery or combustion engine.” The company’s eco!efficiency system aims to maximise machine efficiency and reduce energy, water and cleaning fluid consumption. Latest sustainable products include the new ice blaster IB 10/8 L2P which is said to clean without using chemicals, contaminated sand or water.

Atalian Servest’s cleaning managing director Johan Venter agrees climate crisis is currently the most important sustainability topic. “Climate change will dictate the future for all of us,” he said. “At Atalian Servest we are committed to reducing the impact of our business operations on the ecosystem. We have partnered with several organisations to promote recycling, and carbon neutrality is a priority for us.”

The company also focuses on community development, he says. “This we achieve by recruiting and procuring resources locally, working with SMEs and VCSEs and supporting grass-roots initiatives,” said Venter. “We are also committed to reducing pollution and waste by promoting the circular economy. Not only will this mitigate climate change, it will also create healthier outdoor environments.”

Essity’s communications director Renée Remijnse believes CO2 reduction to be the most pressing sustainability issue at present. “The EU Green deal’s revised targets for 2030 will bring new legislation and significant changes that will impact everyone,” she said. “And with the Paris Climate Agreement and the UN SDG’s focus on circularity we will see an increased push and pull on re-use, recycling and circular design.”

Air and water pollution

Essity’s sustainability policy has three broad focuses: well-being, circularity and providing more from less. Specific goals include reaching net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050; ensuring all waste from production units is subject to material and energy recovery by 2030, and pledging that at least 50 per cent of Essity’s innovations should yield social and/or environmental improvements.

“Coming out of the pandemic we see people and governments wanting to step up their sustainability efforts and change their behaviour,” she said. “However, we should not forget the ‘people’ part of sustainability because health and well-being are now more top-of-mind than ever.”

She adds the company’s goals have shifted over the years. “This is because our knowledge and customer focus have changed,” she explains. “But our main goals have been consistent for some time and we have worked with the UN global compact and the Paris climate agreement from the start.”

Essity focuses on products that reduce waste through compression, consumption reduction and recycled packaging, says Remijnse. These include Tork PeakServe towels which are 50 per cent compressed to reduce transport emissions; the Tork SmartOne toilet paper system which is said to reduce consumption by up to 40 per cent, and the Tork Coreless Toilet Paper system.

“Our Tork PaperCircle hand towel recycling service also helps to support a circular society,” she said.

Air and water pollution are currently the most important sustainability topics for Greenspeed says marketing manager Floor Loos. “It is nearly impossible to prevent cleaning product residues from ending up in the hydrological cycle,” she says. “Water is an increasingly scarce resource and we’re facing a global crisis. The issue of air pollution is also becoming a pressing issue. And global warming is a hot topic that can no longer be ignored.”

She claims the pandemic has helped to polarise attitudes to climate change. “People feel they have a second chance to create a better future and are actively seeking sustainable solutions,” she said. “Environmentally-friendly cleaning products are becoming more common as a result.”

Greenspeed aims to offer products that provide a positive effect as well as reducing their environmental impact. “We don’t just want sustainable products that are less bad - we want products that fit into a circular economy and that benefit people and the environment,” said Loos.

The company’s Probio probiotic cleaning products are said to actively contribute to water purification and maintain a natural microbial balance once they re-enter the environment. And Re-belle microfibre cloths are made from 100 per cent recycled PET and are 100 per cent recyclable.

So, companies have retained their long-term sustainability goals of reducing waste, minimising emissions, cutting down on plastics use and combatting the effects of climate change. But they also report a renewed focus on employee well-being.

Renewed focus

Anabas now offers resilience and positivity training to all staff members. “We need to know our colleagues feel good so that they can deliver optimum service to our clients,” said Jean-Patrick Judson. “Employees need to be able to be open about how they feel and talk to somebody if they need to.”

The Churchill Group has also stepped up its focus on employee well-being during the past 18 months, says Daniela Eigner. “Many of our employees were key workers throughout the pandemic and were using public transport and working on site,” she said. “We ensured they had the PPE and the well-being support they needed.” Churchill has set up online hypnotherapy and meditation platforms plus well-being initiatives for employees based at home including a charity walking challenge and online quizzes.

The pandemic has led to employee well-being and safety becoming firmly front-of-mind, said Kärcher’s Katrin Schmuck. “We have expanded our home office facilities to protect our employees,” she said. “We have also limited our maximum office occupancy, introduced compulsory mask-wearing and switched to virtual meetings.”

Workforce well-being

Employee health and well-being have also moved higher up Greenspeed’s agenda due to Covid-19, says Floor Loos. “We stage workshops and team-building events to improve the well-being and mental health of our people,” she said. “A motivated and healthy team is the best driver of a company’s success.”

Employee well-being is also an important topic for Atalian Servest, says Johan Venter. “Remote working has led to loneliness so we want to find ways of promoting flexibility while preventing staff from feeling isolated,” he said. “We recognise that remote working can be helpful because it allows staff members with limited mobility or with caring duties to join a team without having to come into the office. We are therefore looking at ways of promoting these opportunities while also avoiding the negatives.”

Essity reacted quickly to secure the health and safety of its employees during the pandemic, according to Renée Remijnse. “Our strategy included strict office policies, flexible working conditions and support tools for mental welfare,” she said.

“Hygiene, health and well-being are all closely connected and businesses can show they care by investing in improved hygiene. This results in healthier staff, fewer absences and more satisfied customers and visitors.”


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