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Sustainability and the ‘Green Dollar’?

While there is an abundance of media attention given towards companies and organisations needing to act in a more socially responsible manner and in turn limit their environmental footprint, many within the Indian cleaning industry are questioning what it all means for cleaning contractors and their employees?

Indian cleaning companies need to be aware that there is no one set of criteria to being a ‘green’ or ‘sustainable’ cleaning company. Blanket statements along the lines of ‘we are a green/ sustainable cleaning company’ are not only unhelpful, but can also be misleading to both business and consumer alike. If an individual or company applies a higher standard of criteria to what they consider being a sustainable operation, compared to any organisation in which the cleaning contractor is required to judge themselves and their own business, it can actually damage a cleaning contractor’s reputation more than if they didn’t decide to market themselves as running a ‘green business’ in the first place.

Much like the concept of what it is to be a vegetarian, there are many shades of what is considered ‘being sustainable’. For example, to some people being a vegetarian means simply not eating red meat, while some others apply a far stricter interpretation to their diets. Equally the sustainability criteria by which individuals and organisations judge your company’s operations can vary widely.

This lack of clarity around just what makes a ‘sustainable cleaning company’, coupled with the fact that many industries (not just the cleaning and hygiene sector) often consider sustainable business practices to be financially unviable, has generated an environment of confusion among Indian cleaning professionals. While popular trends such as becoming carbon neutral may seem attractive, they are not always as effective as simple measures. Through a focus on achievable outcomes, such as using less water and improving occupational health and safety standards, Indian cleaners will be able to cost effectively market themselves as employing methods to make their operations more sustainable.

While there is no one set of sustainability criteria by which all companies are judged, there are common themes that are considered by the vast majority when judging a company’s commitment to sustainability. Cleaners looking to minimise the impact their operations have on the environment and its people should pay careful attention to what cleaning chemicals they are using and how they are being used. This is especially the case in public areas such as hospitals and schools, where occupants are more vulnerable than the wider community. Using non-toxic chemicals where possible, coupled with the adoption of microfibre technologies, can eliminate the need for harsh cleaning chemicals in some environments and can help safeguard employees and members of the public from coming into contact with potentially harmful cleaning substances.

Professional cleaning companies have a responsibility towards their customers and to the wider general public, but they also play an important ongoing role in their employee’s lives. Cleaning is often a strenuous and laborious task which, if not balanced properly, can lead to poor worker health and morale. Employing ergonomically designed cleaning equipment can help minimise the physical impact of cleaning contractors work and prevent less time off work through injuries. An investment in ergonomic products can not only help improve employee working conditions, worker moral, the occupational health and safety record of an organisation, but also reduce absentee levels.

The crucial role that staff and their families play in improving a company’s sustainability record needs to be carefully managed. Staff form the most important aspect of a cleaning company, but is often the first to be overlooked when installing a ‘green cleaning’ programme. Contractors can help improve the working conditions of employees and their morale through adopting flexible day-time cleaning hours.

In India, the terms ‘green’ and ‘sustainability’ are commonly linked with overall climate change concerns. Subsequently any cleaning company’s ongoing use of water is of high importance when considering their environmental credentials. Installing a carefully considered water management plan limiting excess wastes of freshwater will greatly assist Indian cleaners in reducing their usage levels. These plans are simple to use and can be compiled in conjunction with your local water retailer.

While many cleaning companies often question the impact they can have on the community, they often overlook simple community minded measures. The introduction of discount rates for community projects and charitable organisations can help improve the perception a cleaning company and may actually lead to further referral work from satisfied parties. Programs aimed at employing the disadvantaged and the disabled may also provide not only an ongoing benefit to your cleaning company, but also assist with the perception of your cleaning organisation being a fair and open equal opportunity employer. Through the implementation of socially and environmentally friendly practices, Indian cleaning contractors have an opportunity to help the wider community, limit their environmental impact and also be able to target an emerging environmentally aware market.

Indian cleaning contractors should feel confident in highlighting what their business is doing to address the issue of sustainability, but not over-promise or mislead. One of the most critical aspects regarding operating as a good corporate citizen is that of transparency and honesty. Therefore, Indian cleaning companies should focus on promoting the specific initiatives they are undertaking to ‘address’ the issue of sustainability and limit the impact their work has on the environment, rather than simply claiming to be a ‘green’ cleaning company overall while the key issues still remain largely subjective.

Paul Manser, Director-Mulberry Marketing Communications,

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