Whether it’s cleaning offices, schools, hotels, hospitals or factories, making professional cleaning more sustainable is primarily about getting things clean using fewer resources for each job and doing it in a way which is safe for the environment and safe and amenable for those doing the cleaning.
Read on to find out how cleaning supports sustainability, not least by protecting our health, how optimizing performance is vital, and how unsafe is unsustainable. We’ll also look at defining sustainability, sustainable development – the three pillars, and the importance of seeing the big picture.
Seeing the big picture
Some people think of sustainable cleaning narrowly as ‘green’, or ‘eco-friendly’, cleaning. But that’s only part of it. To be truly sustainable, processes such as cleaning need to achieve a balance that meets requirements and minimizes impacts across all three ‘pillars’ of sustainability – economic, social and environmental.
Professional cleaning uses a whole array of resources – equipment, tools, consumables, energy, water, people etc. To make it more sustainable means optimizing the mix so the process is as sustainable as possible economically and socially, as well as environmentally. Life cycle assessment is an important tool that can provide an overview of all the environmental impacts that arise from the process and from all the resources it uses.
Finding the right mix also means thinking first about ‘why’ the cleaning is being done, and clearly defining requirements. It also means thinking about ‘when’ cleaning is done so that those requirements can be met in the most sustainable way.
Once that’s clear, the key steps are to choose the right products, tools and equipment, to choose suppliers who manage the sustainability of their own operations, and above all to conduct the cleaning process in a way that minimizes the major environmental impacts that arise or are determined at that stage.
Unsafe is unsustainable
It’s vital for sustainability that cleaning processes must be safe – safe for those who do the cleaning, safe for the environment, and cleaned items must be safe for those who use them. Extensive regulations ensure that, when processes and products are operated and used according to instructions, that will be the case. Workpeople must be trained and managed to ensure this happens.
Optimizing performance is vital
It’s essential that in looking to use fewer resources a good level of performance is maintained. To be truly eco-efficient in use of resources, cleaning processes must get things properly and reliably clean first time. If not, that could mean re-washing, or sometimes people overdose to try to compensate. Either way, if performance is poor the use of resources goes up rather than down. Poor performance can also undermine health and wellbeing and lead to items wearing out more quickly.
Cleaning supports sustainability
Cleaning and hygiene are vital to protecting our health, from microbes that can cause infectious disease and from allergens and other harmful agents we can encounter anywhere and everywhere in everyday life. Cleaning also helps keep our built surroundings as aesthetically pleasing as they were designed to be, and furnishings and fabrics comfortable and attractive.
So it’s worth remembering that although cleaning consumes resources and generates environmental impacts, cleaning positively supports sustainability in many ways. As well as protecting health, cleaning keeps things fit for use, or renews them so they can be re-used, so they have an economic working life.
Cleaning prolongs the life and performance of everything we use, renewing things and keeping them looking and functioning like new, extending their useful life.
Sustainability is about living our lives, and meeting our needs, in a way that doesn’t undermine the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
Sustainable development – the three pillars
Ensuring that human society develops in a way that is sustainable for the long-term is a vital goal for the 21st century. Achieving this goal means making progress in a balanced way across each of the three main ‘pillars’ of sustainability — economic, social and environmental.
- Economic sustainability in cleaning means having products, processes and equipment that are affordable, economic and reliable for those who use them as well as financially viable and providing stable employment for the people and companies who make them.
- Social sustainability is about health and wellbeing — cleaning protects people’s health by preventing the transmission of infectious disease, and contributes to everyone’s wellbeing by keeping the places we live, work and play attractive and comfortable. To be socially sustainable, cleaning products and processes must be safe and amenable to use.
- Environmental sustainability is about living within the resources of the planet and making sure the environment and wildlife are not harmed, either when they are made or when they are used and disposed of after use. Improving environmental sustainability is about reducing the environmental impacts across the whole life-cycle of the cleaning process.