How to spot the greenwashers from the genuine article

Sustainability and green cleaning are too often used as buzzwords in this industry, so how can facilities managers be sure that their cleaning contractor isn’t just paying lip service to their environmental concerns? Chris Parkes, operations director at Julius Rutherfoord & Co considers what sustainability means when it comes to contract cleaning & soft FM.

Unfortunately, there are cleaning and soft FM outsourcing companies out there that simply use sustainability as a slogan as part of their branding. They don’t take initiatives seriously enough to make any impact beyond their own marketing materials. This can not only hamper their clients in reaching sustainability goals, but could also damage the reputations of everyone involved.

It is crucial that companies which say they are working sustainably can prove that they are doing this in a clear and accurate way. Otherwise it undermines the sustainable agenda that truly green-thinking companies are working so hard to implement. So, what should facilities managers look out for when it comes to checking the green credentials of outsourced service providers?

Verification is key

Firstly, there are a wealth of standards and accreditations to check – and independent verification is key. The best cleaning contractors will have earned internationally-recognised environmental accreditations, such as ISO 14001, Carbon Smart certification, or be a registered upper tier waste carrier, among other credentials. Recent national or local award wins recognising sustainable business achievements are also desirable in a contractor – they signify an on-going and continuous-improvement based approach to sustainability.
An intelligent and flexible approach to transparency is also required, and the best outsourced contractors will act as a reliable partner for their clients, providing reporting on sustainability that helps them reach and document their own sustainability goals too. Accreditations like ISO 14001 mean that the company in question must produce assessments and ratings of its environmental impact, for instance. Other schemes to look out for include carbon reduction programmes – ask your contractor if they monitor their fleet emissions, for instance. And if not, why not? It is easy to achieve and can quickly identify inefficiencies, as well as help pinpoint any irresponsible driver behaviour.

Reputable contractors will not only hold regular management meetings on their environmental impacts, but will also make their environmental reporting available to their clients, providing immediate access to the data in the most transparent way. Clear long-term sustainability targets are also a measure of how seriously a contractor is taking these projects, with regular updates on progress towards meeting these targets also made available to clients.

And the best outsourcers will also seek to shape their own supply chain into a more sustainable mould. Companies should audit their sub-contractors using sustainability as a measure of their performance, and provide a feedback loop through regular reviews and audits.

What does green look like

First and foremost, the use of modern and efficient cleaning equipment is far more environmentally friendly than sluggish, outdated models. Ask your commercial cleaner if they are using Eco models, for instance. Facilities managers might also want to delve deeper – is the cleaning company opting for self-dosing, reusable bottles? These not only reduce wastage, but result in far more efficient ordering of consumables to minimize waste.

When it comes to contract cleaning, most facilities managers are aware that some chemical ingredients in cleaning agents can cause skin allergies and asthma, and that others are corrosive and could cause burns, if they come into contact with skin. At the same time, cleaning chemicals can damage the surfaces they are meant to clean, not to mention the wider environment, if used inappropriately (in too high concentration, or if spilled or wasted and washed into the water system).

However, the misnomer persists in some quarters that harsh cleaning chemicals are required to get the best results. Innovations in the cleaning sector mean that the negative environmental and health impacts of cleaning products and equipment are being reduced all the time. A new family of cleaning chemicals that use biotechnology are increasingly entering the mainstream, for instance, and they are often more effective than their traditional counterparts, as well as being safer to handle and dispose of.

Alternative chemicals

Cleaning chemicals based on biotechnology use enzymes and other biological molecules to break down substances to provide the cleaning action. These processes tend to require lower temperatures and pressures than more aggressive acid or alkali-based chemical cleaners. In addition, because enzyme-based cleaners are developed using the fungi or bacteria that are most effective at tackling a specific material, such as fat or oil, the clean is more thorough as the substrate is broken down, rather than being washed away.

The resulting clean surface is also more hygienic as there is no organic material for future growth of unwanted bacteria. And because they are non-toxic, biological cleaning products can be used in a wider range of applications than chemical-based products, such as food preparation areas and work surfaces.

As well as alternatives to traditional cleaning chemicals, the best commercial cleaners will have a repertoire of green tools in their tool kit, including pure water systems that use ionised water for highly effective window cleaning results, microfibre cloths and diamond encrusted cleaning pads. The latter pads, for instance, use millions of microscopic diamonds to clean and polish the floor mechanically without the use of any chemicals. The result is a sparkling clean, non-slippery floor which requires no polish – perfect for high traffic hard floors, or historic floors that could be damaged by chemical treatment.

Limiting or even eliminating cleaning chemicals not only benefits the environment while producing a high standard of cleaning, but also brings health and safety advantages to both cleaning operatives and users of a facility.

Sustainability isn’t limited to indoor cleaning and maintenance though – grounds maintenance teams can also contain their impact on the environment as far as possible by using natural solutions, for example. These include organic pest control options, such as companion planting to discourage harmful pests, and encouraging wildlife that will control garden pests naturally and boost the ecosystem.

Sustainability as a business model

A true sustainable outsourcing partner would not only offer green products and services to its clients, but will have made sustainability part of its business model. Simple measures like energy-saving office design – from LED lights, low-flow toilets and segregated recycling bins to a roof covered with solar panels – should give a hint as to the true nature of a company’s sustainability commitment.

Training and education are also very important, not just at the start of a cleaning operative’s career but as an ongoing process. The best contractors will take training very seriously, with training facilities on-site offering courses to staff that ideally are accredited by independent reputable organisations like the British Institute of Cleaning Science. The idea is to promote simpler and more sustainable cleaning processes, and to stay up-to-date with new environmentally-friendly procedures and best practice in health and safety.

Outsourcing contractors should also work with their clients to implement environmental initiatives, including recycling/waste management solutions and introducing the latest innovative chemical-free cleaning methods in their facility. This type of partnership approach can help both parties reach sustainability goals, and boosts the reputational status of the facility being serviced as a true champion of best practice. Outsourcing companies that take the initiative in this authentic, open and measurable way will become the partner of choice for discerning facilities management clients.

About Julius Rutherfoord & Co
Established in 1994, Julius Rutherfoord & Co has grown organically into a significant, high quality cleaning services organisation. From its home in Battersea it focuses on the London market. Premium services are delivered, based upon an in-house training academy, mandatory staff security vetting, investment in innovation and high levels of site supervision. The team provides a full range of cleaning services to some of the most iconic offices and buildings in London. With over 2,200 fully trained staff located in London, the organisation is fully equipped to service the most demanding clients whilst still delivering the personal touch.

For more information on Julius Rutherfoord & Co’s services call 020 7819 6700, email or visit

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