‘Green’ Cleaning Moves up the Agenda

It might not be top of the pile when it comes to sustainability planning, but a focus on cleaning products has helped Sodexo save tonnes of waste, cut back on road miles and save water.

Day to day cleaning is an issue that has slipped under the radar to date, at least when it comes to sustainability. It’s not surprising; after all cleaning is associated with chemicals and chemicals tend to have an impact on the environment. At least that’s the common consensus. It’s one that clearly rankles with Sodexo environment manager, Paul Bracegirdle.


“Cleaning products do have an impact, and we have to balance that with the standards of safety, hygiene and cleanliness on sites. But that doesn’t mean that cleaning products are environmentally unfriendly. I get asked whether our chemicals are ‘environmentally friendly’ an awful lot,” he adds, “but what exactly does it mean – environmentally friendly? It can cause a great deal of confusion.”


Often the suggestion is that the moniker is synonymous with ‘non-hazardous’. But, that can often mean the chemicals are heavily diluted which involves using gallons of extra water and transporting all of it the length and breadth of the country.


There is certainly more to ‘green cleaning’ than meets the eye, which is why Sodexo, for one, has been working with its global hygiene partner Ecolab for over 10 years to ensure its cleaning really is better for the environment. Essentially, Ecolab is a manufacturer of cleaning products, yet the relationship with Sodexo goes much deeper.


“We don’t just buy products from them,” says Bracegirdle, “they come in and present to our staff and our clients, they help train our staff and keep us informed of the difference all this is making.”


Using super-concentrated products, for instance, has helped to lower emissions, cut waste and reduce water use. A 2-litre pouch of ‘Oasis Pro’ can deliver the same amount of cleaning solution as 400 ready- to-use bottles. “All we have to do is dilute it,” says Bracegirdle. The savings are considerable.


Based on its 2010 volume on the Oasis Pro Pouch product, Sodexo saved some 40 tonnes of waste. What’s more, the company saved on road miles (see boxout) cutting emissions thanks to fewer products being carted around the country. Ecolab’s enzyme-based Wash ‘n Walk surface cleaner has reduced water use by eliminating the need for rinsing, plus the fact it cleans with cold water saves energy too.


The ability to quantify these savings is vital, says Bracegirdle. Firstly, the statistics give their clients peace of mind that “we are taking care of things. The point isn’t that we’ve been asked to cut the impact of our cleaning services – it’s that we are changing the way we do things and we can demonstrate that to our clients if they ask us. This is the right way to go.”


Since using EcoLab products across the business, Sodexo has received “great responses and seen excellent results” from both staff and clients, says Bracegirdle. “Staff having to rinse floors less, the reduction in lorry loads of chemicals and lower water and energy usage makes economical, business and environmental sense.”


The benchmarking not only helps Sodexo communicate its improvements externally though. The fact that these products are easier to use always goes down well with staff, and Sodexo is constantly communicating the benefits. “Ecolab are about to start a series of workshops up and down the country to train our managers on how to best use these products and the benefits they have. We’ve also got our ‘Great Box’, which contains training cards with tips on everything from ‘product use’ to ‘cleaning and the environment’,” Bracegirdle explains.


There is no doubt that Bracegirdle is proud of the company’s work on an issue that others don’t see as a sustainability priority. “We want people to see us taking this seriously, because we are taking it seriously. When others see some of the savings we are making with a few simple changes then perhaps it’ll appear on their radar too.”