The increasing move to eco-friendly cleaning

The cleaning industry in South African comprises approximately 1 950 contract cleaning companies. Only 450 of these are members of the National Contract Cleaners Association (NCCA). In fact, there are very few large players. Many of the medium-sized companies employ around 1 000 cleaners and the bulk, at least 70%, is comprised of small- and micro- enterprises employing fewer than 50 cleaners.

Wahl Bartmann, CEO of Fidelity Services Group, says, “Fidelity Cleaning Services, which forms part of the bigger Fidelity Services Group, is a relative newcomer into this highly-competitive industry and still needs to make its mark. It is clear, however, within the current environment that it is becoming more challenging each year to maintain service levels and pricing due to the low barriers of entry within the cleaning industry. We do, however, believe that if we can offer real value to customers through dedicated client services, a huge national footprint with over 120 branches across South Africa and proper staff motivation, we will be able to keep ahead of global trends and embrace the big drive towards eco-friendly or green cleaning.”

These days, the industry has all but jumped on the bandwagon of sustainable, green, eco-friendly cleaning which has mainly been fuelled by a more informed, and more discerning customer base. Bartmann says this, together with legislation in many parts of the world, has compelled the cleaning industry to adapt to and adopt this change in trend.

“Although the most obvious move to a sustainable cleaning process is simply to remove non-eco-friendly cleaning products from your repertoire, this is not always that simple,” says Bartmann. He says there are still questions around whether these eco-friendly alternatives offer the same strength or efficacy of cleaning and some are also more expensive which creates challenges in a highly cost-conscious environment.

Dustin McDermott, partner at DynamiCX – a key supplier of products to Fidelity Cleaning Services, says while the majority of cleaning companies use local chemical manufacturers, there is no official local standard to test said green chemicals against. “This does, unfortunately, lead to some companies green-washing. It’s important to look at sustainability from a holistic approach taking into consideration biodegradability and best in class environmentally-friendly raw materials while maintaining the foundation that chemicals still need to be effective cleaning agents.” He adds that DynamiCX environmentally-friendly products still rely on the pH scale with certain bacteria based products having specific cleaning abilities in certain environments.

In South Africa many cleaning service suppliers have started sourcing international eco-friendly solutions and are looking for innovations in organic or enzymatic cleaning products and alternative methods of saving water by using dry cleaning and residual cleaning  products, for example.

McDermott says this trend makes sense. “In many cases dry-cleaning and residual products are not only environmentally smarter methods but more efficient than water-based cleaning.”

“Cleaning companies are often only focused on environmentally-friendly chemicals instead of looking at the entire cleaning solution from a holistic cradle to grave scenario. This can include local manufacturing, packaging – considering plastic container sizes, concentrates as alternatives and so on -, recycling, transport, using less product, microfiber cleaning etc,” he adds.

Bartmann agrees. “Apart from the actual products used, companies need to look at processes and procedures as well as the tools used for cleaning. This could make the largest impact. Sustainability starts with efficiency. The faster you can clean more effectively, using less water and cleaning agents greatly reduces the environmental impact your cleaning may have.  The impact of high traffic and employee misuse increases dirt grime and germs through continuous compacting and wear and tear on floors and surfaces. This provides unique challenges for those servicing the commercial and office environments.”

Bartmann says ultimately, sustainable cleaning is not only about the products, tools and methods used, but rather a way of business and set of behaviours encompassed by the company and staff. “Staff, if trained well, will know what product should be used where, not compromising the efficacy of the product, for example. They will also understand the holistic cleaning approach. This, in turn, leads to the sustainability of the building’s overall health, increased moral, productivity and business longevity,” he concludes.