A work in progress

14 October 2014

Innovation has come on in leaps and bounds in the green cleaning market over the past decade, but there is still some way to go, Dominic Ponniah, executive director at contract cleaning business Cleanology, says

When we launched over 10 years ago, "green cleaning" had connotations with being expensive and niche. Today, if a cleaning contractor is not 'green', it will normally exclude that company from tendering for work.

As a business, we have always been 'green'. We also believed that it could be economically beneficial to use microfibre cloths, run a fleet of Toyota Prius' and use environmentally-friendly chemicals. We saw an opportunity whereas many others saw a cost.

In recent years, the industry has caught up with society. There is a lot of innovation around now compared to ten years ago, and cleaning contractors should embrace the changes. That said, green technology needs to stand up to scrutiny – it needs to be fit for purpose and supported by the producers and manufacturers. For some time, some within the industry have felt that some products do not do the job.


Then & now

So, what was available 10 years ago? Microfibres were in their infancy. Most of our competitors were still using disposables. I could never understand why, if cloths could be washed and re-used 100 times, that was not cheaper and greener than using disposables. After all, we were on every site regularly, so there was no additional cost to collect and replace them. It was also a good excuse to keep our managers out on site!

We were using Nilfisk vacuum cleaners, which were then seen as greener by using less energy, with smart options such as HEPA filters. Today, my feeling is that Numatic’s infamous ‘Henry’ has caught up in terms of engine efficiency, and has rightly become the vacuum cleaner of choice for contract cleaners.

Ecover pioneered green chemicals, at least within the domestic cleaning sector. There remains little competition in this field even today, although new brands such as Method and supermarket own-brands have sprung up. In the commercial sector, where Ecover did once lead, others have since followed, and in my opinion in most cases have now leap-frogged over Ecover. There are also a series of own-brand product ranges, such as Evans’ "Green Tick" and Jangro’s "Enviro" lines. Ecover even attempted a fight back in the commercial sector by launching their "Professional" range, which does not seem to have caught on in the way their domestic lines have dominated.

All the top chemical manufacturers, such as Diversey and Selden, now carry their own ‘green’ product lines. For the contract cleaner, and I am sure my competitors would agree, these brands represent quality and are market-leading products.


Lack of support

The market today has taken a further turn from green cleaning to chemical-free cleaning. This was evident when I visited the industry’s ISSA trade show in Amsterdam earlier this year, where they had a dedicated section on steam cleaning (albeit a small section). This is clearly an area which is going to continue to grow apace over the coming years.

As a business, we trialled a Canadian chemical-free cleaning product last year, but had to withdraw it after the manufacturer failed to support us sufficiently. It was similar to a ‘Yakult’ yoghurt for the cleaning industry; good bacteria which ate dirt – and it did genuinely work!

Rather than use large bottles of concentrate, we used small one-time disposable sachets. Although more expensive per use than the large bottles of concentrate, it meant almost no storage was required, it was easy and cheap to transport, and in my estimation, cheaper per use due to the lack of wastage. (It is safe to assume that the dilution systems are not always used as they should be).

Regrettably, the manufacturer (who shall have to remain anonymous) stopped shipping the sachets to the UK, and overnight we were left without cleaning products. This sort of failure and lack of support by manufacturers does not encourage the contract cleaning industry to innovate and take green cleaning forward to the next level.

It was a great shame that the manufacturer didn’t share our excitement, as it was a genuine innovation for us, both in terms of a marketing advantage and also as a product; because it did deliver in terms of getting buildings cleaned.

In conclusion, it can be said that the commercial cleaning industry has truly innovated over the past decade. But where next? With the birth of chemical-free cleaning and the rapid growth in steam cleaning I think we have only just scratched the surface of the green cleaning revolution.