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Environmental sustainability and the search for ‘green credentials’

Environmental sustainability is a key issue across a number of sectors, not least in the area of facilities management and contract cleaning. Businesses across the supply chain are demanding to see evidence of ‘green credentials’ from all their suppliers, pushing this requirement to the forefront of commercial operations.

For many leading manufacturers, this pressure has resulted in a concerted effect to examine and assess the environmental impact of their products, ensuring that they are not only compliant with current regulation, but also that they are minimally damaging to the environment.

To achieve ‘green credentials,’ cleaning products can be assessed from three separate angles. Firstly, the composition of the chemicals and ingredients used throughout the manufacturing process can be examined. Secondly, the manufacturing process itself can be reviewed.  Lastly, the supply chain involved in the manufacture, distribution and sale of the product can be brought into the spotlight. Carbon footprint is often used as a benchmark to measure how environmentally friendly a product is, and those with smaller supply chains that travel shorter distances are beginning to be seen as the ‘greener choice.’

The responsibility for manufacturing and selling environmentally sustainable products is being felt across the whole supply chain, with many larger businesses selecting supply partners based on their ability to provide environmentally friendly products with suitable green credentials. The main challenge the supplier faces is managing a balance between green efficiency and cost of the products. Often, eco-friendly products can be more expensive. A way to reduce costs is for businesses to consolidate suppliers where they can, offering discounts in other areas and therefore balancing the increased cost for the green products themselves.

For professionals working within the facilities management and contract cleaning sector, cryptic labelling can often be a barrier to truly understanding the nature of the products they purchase. With such a large number of different accreditations and certifications being applied to a range of products, from cleaning chemicals to paper towels, it is essential that suppliers effectively explain and clarify the meaning behind the various product marques and labels. For instance, the FSC (Forestry Stewardship Council) is a familiar sight on a vast number or products, but how many people truly understand what it means from an environmental sustainability perspective?

Aside from understanding ‘eco-labelling’ and what it means for individual products, businesses should take an introspective look at their own operations when trying to bolster their green credentials. Organisations of different sizes require solutions of different scales, especially where cleaning products are concerned – dosing equipment serves as a good example for this. For a smaller business, ready-to-use chemicals may be the most cost-effective option, but for a larger business, buying chemicals in concentrated form is likely to offer the best value.

Dilution control offers cost reduction in a number of ways. Dispensers can be set to supply the correct amount of chemicals, reducing not only the amount of concentrate needed, but also the amount of water used in the cleaning or washing procedure. Buying cleaning chemicals in a concentrated form also relieves pressure on the supply chain, potentially reducing the number of deliveries needed and the amount of packaging used.

Aside from the chemicals and their individual composition, choosing the right cleaning equipment is also important for driving environmental sustainability. For instance, microfibre cleaning has been a long standing innovation which is constantly  being reinvigorated and improved in an effort to move forward and offer a more ‘green solution’. This type of cleaning uses significantly less chemicals and water to achieve the same cleaning standard and can also can be laundered, meaning less wastage and less need for disposal of old products.

There is no single key to environmentally sustainable cleaning and ‘green credentials.’ Establishing a commitment across the supply chain to provide the correct products with the correct eco certifications is only one side of the operation. Assessing need and scale on an individual basis is the other. There is unfortunately no ‘one fits all’ solution and many factors should be taken into account when trying to establish ‘green credentials.’

By: Rob Abrahams, senior strategic director at Office Depot

About Sarah OBeirne

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