Part 1: Green Cleaning – It’s Your Business

Anyone can say they clean green. But what does that mean? Many shades of green exist within the spectrum of green cleaning. How green is green? The varied scenarios include businesses that mix their own natural cleaning products (with or without essential oils), contract production of proprietary and custom blends, buy manufactured green formulas, or rely on water-only cleaning technologies like steam vapor and de-ionized water.

Some companies end their contributions to the environment at the cleaning protocols. Others use more of a 360° approach with practices such as a paperless office, alternative fuel fleets, and daily dilution of concentrated cleaning formulas to help them reduce their drag on the environment.

These are some of the decisions you’ll need to make whether you are launching your cleaning business start-up green or looking at converting your existing cleaning business to a green cleaning business. How does one sort through all the considerations that must be made before introducing a green cleaning service?

As the leader, your informed approach to this commitment will have everything to do with the success of your launch. Otherwise, upside possibilities with green cleaning will not be yours to provide.

What do you want to stand for in your marketplace?

With little money and zero experience running a business Joe Walsh, founder of Green Clean Maine, knew he wanted to start an environmentally friendly company. But what kind? “Cleaning just happened to make sense because the barriers to entry were so low. And, cleaning was a business that could provide environmental benefit. It seemed like a no brainer.”

This spirit of commitment is shared by Kris Koenig, who founded Natura Clean 13 years ago on a green platform that belies her lifelong interest in environmentalism. Kris and Joe didn’t start with the scientific expertise necessary to create a green cleaning program that would deliver on the promise of cleaning safer while still cleaning well. But they each had a commitment to be green thoroughly and transparently rather than naively and incompletely.

So they taught themselves. “I put a lot of thought and energy into acquiring this knowledge,” says Joe. “I looked at a lot of scientific papers, books and online articles.”

Running an authentic green cleaning program requires making every effort to provide maximum environmental and human health protection while maintaining cleaning efficacy. According to Barack Obama’s Executive Order No. 13514, green cleaning is “the use of those products and services that have a lesser or reduced impact on human health and the environment when compared with competing products or services that serve the same purpose.”

While the standard gives us no insights into qualitative thresholds of impact, the executive order makes clear that green cleaning is about human health and the environment. Reputable cleaning companies should be able to substantiate any green claims that you make accordingly. We will look at this in greater detail in Part 2 of this series but generally false or exaggerated claims are misleading at best, illegal at worst.

When cleaning businesses are ever seeking to elevate public perception of our industry and the service we provide, “green washing” compromises the level of trust consumers are willing to ascribe to us – all of us. But, closer to home, you can find yourself in a whole lot of trouble locally if you aren’t sincere in your pursuits with green cleaning.

Planning for change.

Start by taking a mental walk through of a typical week at your company to make note of all the areas that will be affected by your choice to be green. In your mind’s eye, put the key in the door to your business space as you would any Monday morning. Now, imagine the full course of your day and make note of all areas that will be affected. Record everything on post-it notes as you go through a Monday at your company. What about the other days of the week? Are there any variations to Monday’s routine? Will those variations be impacted by green cleaning?

After all those areas are recorded on post-its, spread them out so all are visible, and categorize them with similar or related items. If some are sequenced place them in the proper order chronologically.

Once assembled, you’ve created a rough “punch list” of everything that must be addressed for a smooth launch. It’s time to do a little research. Talk to other cleaning business owners, through ARCSI or Cleaning Business Today’s Facebook page, about their adoption of green cleaning. How did they handle each of those aspects?  What sort of timeline did they follow? Pay special attention to areas related to change management, outlined below, and make note of anything that should be added to your punch list.

How will you convey the elements of your plan to everyone?

Plan ahead how you will explain your decision in the clearest and simplest terms possible. Write it down, even rehearse it. If you can’t explain it clearly and confidently, the buy-in you get will be limited.

Of course more details will be necessary once the essential concept is understood. As you begin to plan your training process, incorporate best practice learning theory into your program. David Kolb, a renowned organizational psychologist and expert on experiential learning theorizes that effective learning requires four things:

  1. doing or experiencing something
  2. observing and reflecting about that experience
  3. drawing conclusions about that experience
  4. knowing how to apply those conclusions to real life scenarios

Building time into your training for group discussion and practical exercise will enrich the learning and retention for everyone on the team.

What obstacles exist and how might you overcome them?

How will you close the knowledge gap that impedes your ability to make progress in a responsible way? Both Kris and Joe emphasized the amount of research they did to learn about the chemicals and methods that posed the greatest risk, and to find safer alternatives that worked well.

“I thought I could use store-bought green cleaning solutions but they weren’t effective. I found other cleaning companies that made their own, and I decided to experiment.” Joe says he “did a LOT of research in my kitchen, experimenting with different cleaning agents – just basic ingredients. Basically I had concoctions going all the time until I settled on the best combinations of ingredients to clean different things.”

What about any detractors in your company that could sabotage your plans? In what ways could you win them over? If someone is not aligned with your vision they may lack understanding about what you are trying to accomplish or why.

In what ways is confusion your enemy, and how can you work to eliminate confusion as everyone works through this change? For example, having your whole plan prepared before you implement it will help stem questions for which you don’t have an answer. If you are not fully knowledgeable, you may create confusion, which leads to skepticism. It doesn’t mean you have to have every answer, though. You may choose to let employees make some decisions. Just be sure you know which ones those will be before getting started. Be sure to see Part 3 for more employee-related matters.

Be sure to check out the other articles in this series:

Prologue

Part 1 – It’s Your Business

Part 2 – Educating Customers

Part 3 – Engaging Employees

Part 4 – Service Delivery