The cutting edge of sustainability

17th of November 2017
The cutting edge of sustainability

Sustainable cleaning is often considered to be more or less synonymous with cuts. But should cuts in everything from emissions and waste to energy and water be at the forefront of any sustainable cleaning policy or are there other, equally important factors to consider?

Energy, water, emissions, waste, the use of raw materials – all of them need to be cut back as far as possible according to many cleaning sector companies’ sustainability policies. But sustainability is all about balance. And where cuts are made, some rebuilding work needs to occur in the form of community programmes, staff relations and positive supply chain policies. So, do cuts remain a crucial part of sustainability?

The importance or otherwise of cuts is largely up to an individual company’s stakeholders according to Diversey’s regional sustainability director Ed Roberts. “In major organisations the chief stakeholders are usually asked what aspects of sustainability are most important for the company and what matters to them most individually,” he said. “This can generate a list of, say, 100 focus areas. The dozen or so areas that feature most prominently in the stakeholders’ responses then form the basis of the company’s policy.”

He says an organisation’s priorities will depend on the type of company concerned. “For example, animal welfare might not figure very prominently in a hotel chain’s sustainability policy but it would be high on the list for a large supermarket or a fast-food burger chain,” he said. “Similarly, transport would be more of a focus area for a courier company or an online retailer than for companies with fewer deliveries.”

However he adds that cuts in water, energy and waste production are the bedrocks of most sustainability policies. Diversey’s own Better Way for Life Plan includes a goal to reduce the company’s energy intensity by 25 per cent. “We also aim to cut the greenhouse gas and water intensity of our business by the same figure and divert 100 per cent of our product and process waste from landfill,” said Roberts.

Diversey seeks to ensure all suppliers and operations attain optimal ethical supply chain standards and that all raw materials meet the company’s responsible materials criteria. And Diversey also pledges to expand food security for global populations and improve lives in the communities in which it operates.

Wider approach

Kärcher also has a programme of sustainability “cuts” says head of sustainability management Andreas Mayer. “One target is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20 per cent by 2020,” he said. “We use 2012 as our baseline year and by last year we had already achieved half this target. We are also targeting a 10 per cent cut in energy consumption by 2020 and we plan to reduce our use of blister packaging by 50 per cent.

“Cuts should be a key focus of any sustainability policy because they lead to an efficient use of resources. However in my view, sustainability should not only focus on efficiency but should take a
wider approach.”

Kärcher aims to reduce its business activity resources in general. “For example, we want to ensure that all our sales packaging comes from sustainable forestry by 2020,” said Mayer. “We also need to look at behavioural change since people’s willingness to contribute to recycling schemes is important. And the social aspect of sustainability is becoming an increasing issue for customers.”

He agrees with Roberts that the most important sustainability “cut” depends on the company concerned. “We have identified manufacturing and product use as the key stages of our products’ life cycle and have set ambitious targets for both stages,” he said. “Sustainability is a major focus for us and is increasingly becoming a focus for many of our customers.”

Cuts in waste, energy and chemical use are all central to cleaning services business Julius Rutherfoord’s sustainability policy says operations director Chris Parkes. “We have a zero waste to landfill policy and recycle around 105 kg of material each year,” he said. “This results in CO2 savings of more than 152 tonnes.

“We also use low-flow, low-energy systems at our London headquarters and have an atrium glass roof which reduces our dependency on artificial light. And the solar panels at our head office produce more than 9,000 kWH of renewable electricity a year.”

Julius Rutherfoord also reduces chemical use where possible, says Parkes. “This includes the use of microfibre cloths, diamond cleaning pads and pure water systems operated with carefully controlled water usage,” he said. “We believe that cutting down on chemical use benefits the environment while producing a high standard of cleaning and bringing health and safety advantages to cleaning operatives and facility users.”

But like other companies he believes sustainability to be about efficiency as well as cuts. “We advocate the use of modern, efficient cleaning equipment for our clients such as the latest eco models instead of yesterday’s sluggish, outdated machines,” he says. “And we use self-dosing, reusable bottles which not only reduce the amount of packaging waste but also result in more efficient ordering. This helps to minimise product waste while cutting down on transport emissions.”

Sustainability is less about cuts and more about circularity of resources for Cromwell Polythene says managing director James Lee. “It is about ensuring resources remain in the economy for as long as possible through a first, second and third life,” he said.

Plastic producers are under huge pressure to cut the amount of plastic waste in the environment, he says. “We have a closed-loop sustainability strategy that not only sees recycled materials incorporated where possible into the products we produce, but also encourages the return of post-industrial and post-consumer plastics to the production cycle for re-processing,” said Lee.

Away from landfill

“Where recycling is not practical, waste from plastic packaging at the end of its useful life is diverted away from landfill sites and used to help power our towns and cities.”

Ecolab’s vice-president of corporate sustainability Emilio Tenuta says his company aims to conserve 300 billion gallons of water annually by 2030. “This will be from across our own and our customers’ premises,” he said.

“In 2016 we helped customers save 161 billion gallons of water which is equivalent to the annual drinking water needs of more than 558 million people.” He claims Ecolab’s Apex warewashing programme cuts water and energy use since it reduces the need to rewash items. Ecolab aims to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 10 per cent by 2020 against a 2015 baseline.

Reducing water use is one of the most important “cuts” in any sustainability policy, says Tenuta. “In 2016 the World Economic Forum named water as a top business risk,” he said. “By 2030, 70 per cent of the global economy will be affected by water scarcity.”

However, he believes that sustainability requires a holistic approach rather than simply focusing on cuts. “We strive to operate in a way that enhances three key elements: the well-being of the natural environment; social benefits for people; and generating economic value,” he said.

Ecolab donated 142 tons of cleaning and sanitising products in support of disaster relief in 2016 and has ongoing projects in youth and education, civic and community development, arts and culture, environment and conservation.

“Focusing simultaneously on social, environmental and economic performance is good for society and good for business,” said Tenuta.

Werner and Mertz is cutting down its CO2 emissions according to international business development manager for communications and sustainability Maresa Schmid. “Since 2014 we have been using up to 100 per cent eco-electricity and certified natural gas at both our production sites,” she said. “As a result both these sites recorded zero CO2 emissions in 2015.

“Since we decided to keep our packaging production in-house we have also eliminated around 1,700 truck trips that would have been necessary for the delivery of containers. This has led to a cut in CO2 emissions of around 600 tons per year.”

The company has recorded significant energy cuts in recent years as well, she says. “By installing high-speed doors at the gates of our drum storage plants we have reduced the building’s heating consumption by around 12 per cent.”

Schmid adds employees are given incentives to use low-emission solutions for their commute. ”Job bicycles are offered at an attractive leasing rate and the free charging of electrical cars is available at our Mainz headquarters,” she said. “And we have implemented new regulations on customer visits and route-planning to reduce distances travelled, emissions and travel time.”

Doing the right thing

Rather than centring its sustainability policy on cuts, the Werner and Mertz approach is about “doing the right thing”, says Schmid. “This means ensuring efficiency while eliminating any harmful consequences,” she said. “For example, we are pursuing a state-of-the-art water stewardship policy within our value stream. And we are a driver behind the Recyclate initiative, an innovation that promotes closed cycles for plastic packaging and works towards stemming the flood of plastic litter.

“We see plastic as a valuable resource that should not end up in our oceans and as a result our packaging bottles are sourced from the public waste collection system.”

Schmid agrees with other companies that sustainability is about more than just cuts. “These mainly reduce the negative impacts on the environment while ensuring that our quality of life can potentially be shared by all future generations,” she said. “But as far as we are concerned, sustainability should be a balanced approach to long-term social, environmental and economic objectives.

“And the social aspect focuses on balancing the needs of the individual - or the company’s employees - with the needs of the group, or wider society.”

Diversey’s Ed Roberts concurs that balance is all-important in any sustainability policy.  “Even the most environmentally-friendly of organisations needs to make money and take a socially responsible approach,” he said.

“Companies have always needed to be sustainable in order to survive, but the world’s sustainability values have evolved. In the 1700s, for example, all a company needed to do in order to survive was to make money. But in the 1800s we became much more socially aware and new labour protection laws came into being. As a result it became more important to take care of the workforce and the companies that did so were more successful.

“Then at some point in the 1900s, environmental stewardship came into focus which meant companies now had to help to protect the environment in order to survive. This became the ‘third leg’ of sustainability – the ‘planet’ aspect if you like - and any organisation that consistently failed in one or more of these three pillars of sustainability became was to failure.”

So will this continue to be the case in the future? Sustainability is still evolving, according to Roberts. “Sustainability does not die as a concept - it merely gets added to,” he said. “Will a fourth pillar be added and if so, what will it be and when? We’ll have to wait and see.”



Related Articles

Our Partners

  • ISSA Interclean
  • EFCI
  • EU-nited