Sustainability in cleaning has come a long way since the mid-2000s when it was really just another word for ‘environmental’. Yet while there’s no denying the industry has adapted well to the environmental brief with increasing use of water, steam, microfibre and energy-efficient machines, a new sustainability challenge is now emerging.
When the details of Carillion’s demise were picked over, sustainability reappeared in a different context. The word ‘unsustainable’ was used to describe the type of contract no one wants to be involved in – a low margin affair, with little transparency and, all too often, unwanted consequences for customers, contractors and staff in the chain.
With its low wages and price competitiveness, the cleaning industry is only too familiar with this scenario. But why does it have to be that way? Surely the time has come to look for a new sustainable model of cleaning that considers the environment, people, customers and financial viability in equal measure?
Greenzest has developed a framework to help us build a holistic model of sustainability. We call it our ‘four pillars of sustainability’: planet, people, partnerships and productivity.
We minimise our carbon footprint through two key elements: use of hybrid vehicles and resistance to opening a physical head office, with all its associated environmental impacts. We also use low-impact cleaning methods such as water, steam and microfibre wherever possible, reducing our use of packaging and harmful cleaning chemicals.
Operating without a physical office is, we believe, unique in the industry for a company of our size. It’s made possible by a combination of cloud-based technology, secure data storage for company documentation, and the use of third party apps and systems to manage key processes such as training, quality auditing and right to work vetting. Management meetings are held at customers’ premises – which has the advantage of allowing our managers to see at first hand the cleaning operation at different sites.
In our industry, we cannot rely on high pay rates to retain frontline staff, although wherever possible we pay Living Wage Foundation rates, not minimum wage. This means we need other ways to motivate and engage our people. UhUb is our smartphone-accessible, City and Guilds approved staff training and engagement app. It works for our business in three ways.
First, it means our entire workforce can receive training in a range of cleaning skills. Second, it means everyone can access important documents about right to work, HMRC and health and safety, as well as company policies. Third, it provides an active medium through which the company can communicate with staff individually or en masse. This has brought the company together in a way that is difficult in cleaning, where 95 per cent of staff work remotely, mostly out of normal office hours and quite often alone. It means staff enjoy their work more and feel a greater sense of belonging.
Asked what is the most important thing an incumbent contractor can do to improve their chances of winning a contract at re-tender, an FM once said: “During the term of their existing contract they should communicate constantly what they are doing and show the value they are providing. It’s too late at the re-tender to tell everyone what you have been up to for the last two or three years.”
It therefore makes sense for cleaning contractors to support their FM customers in a professional and collaborative way, partly because they are essentially colleagues in the management of their building, and partly because the contractor should be able to demonstrate how the management of the building has improved during its time as incumbent.
As an example of how Greenzest builds partnerships, we design cleaning programmes to support our customers’ own sustainability strategies, such as energy-saving flow cleaning rather than zonal. We also align our work with customer objectives to help reduce customer costs and adopt a ‘whole lifecycle’ approach to our contracts.
The modern office is designed around hotdesking, breakout areas and pristine hygiene facilities. This challenges preconceptions of cleaning as a rigid service, instead requiring a flexible approach that meets the demands of the new workplace.
Every cleaning system should be based on the customer’s requirements, but the default position should be flow cleaning with a team of day cleaners operating in overlapping shifts for the duration of the working day. As well as saving energy, this combination keeps the building in a safe and hygienic condition from the arrival of the earliest employees until the last person leaves, or an evening event finishes.
We also keep abreast of new equipment and cleaning methods to improve the cleaning productivity of our teams as well as streamlining back-office systems to reduce overhead. Increased productivity reduces costs and helps secure longer customer relationships, creating a secure future for our staff and company.
But at the end of the day, does holistic sustainability deliver real benefits to FMs?
We believe all FMs would agree that it’s only fair for contract cleaning staff to earn a sustainable wage, and for the contractor to earn sufficient margin to sustain its future. All the more so when in return the contractor offers the transparency of open-book reporting and high standards of cleaning delivered by a motivated team.
The Living Wage Foundation wage is gaining traction, with well-documented benefits in terms of reduced staff turnover and associated savings in training, administration and vetting costs. At the same time, we believe FMs adapting to the different demands placed on their buildings by new ways of working will increasingly warm to the idea that partnership with an agile, collaborative and more motivated contractor will lead to a longer-term, mutually beneficial relationship.
There are certain components all cleaning contractors should be able to offer as part of a contract:
- Vetting and entry controls
- Training in building-specific tasks
- Use of smartphones to communicate with the FM team
- Well-researched proposals for maintaining difficult floor types
- Disaster recovery planning
- Co-operation with other contractors
- Open-book contract reviews
- KPIs and a formal log book of contract improvements.