Making a difference

Cleaning industry operators across New Zealand are engaging in a raft of sustainable projects and initiatives which are helping their people and the environment, while also delivering efficiency benefits for their businesses and customers.

As RapidClean rolls out its cleaning chemicals across New Zealand, customers may spot some colour variations with the containers being used.

The cleaning products business’s new Environmental Choice New Zealand (ECNZ)-certified range of chemicals is delivered in 5-litre and 15-litre bottles made from 75 per cent post-consumer recycled milk and water bottles.

This move is just one of many that RapidClean is taking as part of its push to embrace sustainability, including offering a surfactant-free dishwashing detergent.

The original bottles are collected from recycling depots around New Zealand, with the flattened bottles then being out through a chipper at a plastic recycler that also removes labels and washes the plastic. The chips are then manufactured into the containers, which can have some minor discolouration because of the recycling process.

“It’s been a good initiative,” says Geoff Hughes, national manager at RapidClean New Zealand.

“More and more customers are asking for products to be as environmentally sustainable as possible.”

A smart, sensible approach

PPCS, a leading provider of facility and cleaning services throughout New Zealand, is another company that is committed to sustainability, with the four key pillars of its strategy focusing on ‘people’, ‘environment’, ‘procurement’ and ‘community’.

Whether it is backing a MECA deal to provide workers with wage protections, choosing electric and hybrid vehicles for its fleet, or using greener cleaning processes, PPCS wants to adopt sustainable practices in a sensible way.

Executive general manager Sarel Bloem cites the use of ionised water on commercial cleaning jobs, where applicable, to cut down on the use of harsh chemicals.

“Our view of sustainability is that you must be able to repeat a process indefinitely,” he says. “So, from time to time you may have to use cleaning products that are a little more aggressive than the ionised water. Public toilets are a good example – you can clean them with a green product six days a week and then go with something stronger one day a week.”

On the people front, PPCS has been partnering with Earthlink, a not-for-profit group that provides education, training and supported employment opportunities for people with mental health and physical challenges.

Under the program, workers collect e-waste such as old phones and tablets that would normally end up in landfill. Instead, it is taken to Earthlink for a range of recycling initiatives.

Bloem says the concept pays off on a number of fronts, in addition to creating meaningful jobs.

“We’re no longer paying for all the landfill costs. Earthlink takes the waste off us and refurbishes what they can. But what they can’t refurbish they’ll strip anything of value out and on-sell that to fund Earthlink.”

People power

Supercare managing director Ian Kebbell says sustainability initiatives are becoming an ever-increasing part of the national commercial cleaning services provider’s “non-pricing attributes”.

“More and more, customers who we are partnering with are looking to understand how we can work with them on sustainability issues,” he says.

Supercare is a member of Diversity Works New Zealand, the national body for workplace diversity, equity and inclusion. Kebbell says that alliance helps his team sustain a workplace in which mindfulness and wellbeing are supported.

Using a framework from Diversity Works NZ, a team of regular Supercare staff members – not senior management – are assessing the business’s diversity efforts, including rating performance in relation to culture, gender and the physical and mental make-up of the team.

Kebbell says senior managers are not part of the assessment team for a reason.

“This must be driven from the coalface up.  Often, we sit behind our desk and think we know what’s going on, but as part of our learning we need to hear from our people.”

In addition to improving the satisfaction and lives of workers, he believes such diversity initiatives have pay-offs for Supercare.

“If we have people who stay with us, that’s less time and money that we have to spend looking for new people.”

According to Kebbell, one of the big issues Supercare will have to stay on top of in coming years is pricing. In short, he wants to commit the business to charging appropriate prices for its services that allow the business to thrive and for employees to get a fair wage.

“The traditional race to the bottom with pricing in the cleaning industry is rearing its head again. We’ve taken the view that for us to be a sustainable and viable business that continues to trade going forward, we must set a band of pricing and stick within that band. If we go cheap and we’re not here tomorrow, we don’t win, our people don’t win, and our customers don’t win. It’s something as an industry that we need to be aware of.”

National effort

Although New Zealand has an international reputation for being clean and green, a government report from 2020 has highlighted high pollution levels in its freshwater rivers.

The study found that almost 60 per cent of the country’s rivers carry pollution above acceptable levels, with 95 to 99 per cent of rivers in pastoral, urban and non-native forested areas being contaminated.

Hughes says farmers are engaged in remediation actions to address the river issues, while business’s such as RapidClean have a role to play, too. That includes committing to the group’s ECNZ-certified cleaning solutions covering washrooms, floors and surfaces, glass, kitchen degreasing and multipurpose tasks.

“People are very keen to do the right thing by the environment and part of that is what we’re doing with our chemicals,” Hughes says.

“A lot of chemicals are not sewer-system friendly, and they end up killing off the natural bio-enzymes in those systems, whereas ours don’t.”

He says members of the RapidClean group are switching to green products where possible, while many of the group’s preferred suppliers are also introducing more sustainable and reusable products, which contributes to a greener supply chain overall.

“You must have the backing of all parts of the supply chain,” Hughes says.

While the ECNZ certification process took years and included rigorous peer reviews to ensure the chemical formulations meet appropriate standards, Hughes welcomes such rigour.

“I think it’s good that it takes that long because it means the process is very thorough.”

As part of its green efforts, PPCS now has 16 electric vehicles and 25 hybrids in its fleet. The company policy is to favour EVs whenever possible, or to go with hybrids for those staff members who need to make longer trips. Trucks with combustion engines are only acceptable if all other options are not feasible.

Bloem says PPCS is even starting to distinguish between hybrids, mild hybrids and plug-in hybrids, with the latter having the advantage of a larger battery pack that can be recharged externally and which is seen as the most sustainable of the hybrid vehicles.

“Although the plug-in hybrid costs more to buy, we’re now compensating for that by driving our vehicles for slightly longer. Previously, we’d drive them for four years or a certain number of kilometres, but we’re now pushing that to five to six years to make them more cost-effective.”

While many EVs come with a price premium, Bloem says PPCS has found ways to get around that issue. “If we had to go for the top-end EVs and hybrids, it wouldn’t make sense. But by going for mid-range vehicles and being a bit smarter, it pays off.”

Keep it simple

Bloem believes simple measures can make a difference with sustainability.

For example, PPCS’s cleaning services of low-cost housing estates for Wellington City Council uncovered a high proportion of contaminated waste in recycling stations. At the suggestion of one of the company’s waste-truck drivers, recycling bins were moved slightly further away from homes – resulting in committed recyclers continuing to use the stations, while “lazier” people just kept putting all their rubbish in general bins closer to their premises.

“The amount of contaminated waste for recycling dropped drastically,” Bloem says.

Other actions are also making a difference, too. PPCS continues to expand a successful project featuring solar-powered smart-waste compactor bins, called the Big Belly Bin, into New Zealand’s largest shopping centre, Sylvia Park, and for Auckland Council in the west. The bin reduces rubbish collections dramatically and requires fewer waste-truck visits to the sites.

For Bloem, the way forward on sustainability will see PPCS continue to finetune such projects and be conscious of exploring new opportunities.

Kebbell agrees that true sustainability does not require a “big-bang approach”. “

It’s a lot of little things that make a difference.”

For instance, Supercare has been using GPS systems to track its vehicles and determine the shortest, most fuel-efficient routes. It is an easy move that helps.

“For some SMEs, in particular, with limited resources, what all too often happens is that you get so scared of the sustainability topic. You think you have to make all these major changes to be effective, and therefore you end up doing nothing,” Kebbell says.

“For us, sustainability doesn’t have to be expensive or resource hungry. It’s just about being mindful of it and having an impact.”

This article first appeared in the November issue of INCLEAN NZ magazine

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