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Walk the Talk: 4 Overlooked Ways to Maintain a Truly Sustainable Workplace

By Stephen Lewis, Last Modified
Oct 23, 2018
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> Human Resources

Building maintenance is usually a permanent line item on a business's expense sheet. However, with a little thoughtful planning and the use of truly green cleaning products and earth-friendly protocols, maintenance costs for a small business facility can take a smaller chunk out of the bottom line.

Sustainable maintenance and procedural practices can have far-reaching effects, including reducing expenses (not to mention additional benefits) in often unconsidered areas. As noted in a report by the American Institute for Cleaning Sciences (ISSA), greening any business environment can reduce absenteeism and presenteeism, improve effectiveness, preserve assets, and build internal and external advocates.

The key is to think of environmentalism's value not in terms of individual maintenance changes, but in terms of how those choices collectively affect the system over time.

Some choices are more costly (or even damaging) than others. Often, those decisions come from businesses that only partially go green. Recycling, for instance, can fall into this category. Small businesses that set up recycling bins may think they're doing a good deed, but if they don't investigate further, those discarded bottles and boxes could still end up in landfills. Additionally, when it comes to printing and its associated environmental impact, every employee, on average, prints paper equaling 1.3 trees annually, most of which is wasted: Nearly one-third of those print jobs are left in the printer; 45 percent wind up in the "circular file."

In a nutshell, small business leaders and their respective facilities teams must look beyond their current green procedures and ask themselves how they can foster a positive, hygienic workplace where greenness isn't a one-and-done afterthought.

If you're eager and ready to take the next step in your small business's environmental measures, check out these four operational changes you can implement immediately.

1. Use as many green-certified cleaning products as possible.

If an ingredient in your current cleaning products will harm an aquatic species or require the use of eye protection, it probably shouldn't be used in your building. Go through all the items you currently use, from aerosol sanitizers to textile spot removers. Even if you have to spend more upfront, your tradeoff will be a location with improved indoor air quality. For small businesses that don't clean green, absenteeism plagues the workplace.

And as it turns out, absenteeism costs companies more than $225 billion annually, according to a separate ISSA report. If this is the cost and impact for larger companies, imagine its effects on smaller ones. A clean workspace is essential for reversing (and ultimately preventing) absenteeism and the role it plays in your bottom line. A big aspect of this is simply keeping your indoor environment clean, contaminant-free and germ-free.

2. Choose dry methods of carpet cleaning.

For generations, companies have relied on hot water extraction-based carpet cleaning. These processes waste water and use up electricity; additionally, they facilitate moisture buildup, which becomes a breeding ground for mold. In fact, dry polymer carpet encapsulation processes can reduce the dust in the air. ISSA research has shown that airborne debris can affect workers' ability to think clearly.

In fact, a 2016 study by Florida State University discovered that participants who held jobs in unclean work environments experienced a decline in cognitive function. It's simple: Keeping your business clean yields a high-performing team. Implement methods like dry carpet encapsulation,  where polymers latch on to dirt and soil, then crystallize to be easily picked up by a vacuum, to safely and effectively remove dirt and debris.

3. Switch to sustainable paper and sanitary products.

For example, consider using bamboo fiber recycled toilet paper that hasn't been bleached by chlorine or covered in a thin, nonrecyclable plastic wrap. These measures may seem small, but they can have widespread effects. Plus, they leave an impression on your workers and visitors. You can still have a gleaming restroom – which 94 percent of consumers say makes or breaks their loyalty – while sticking to your philosophy of sustainable practices and partnerships.

4. Reduce your packaging.

From refill stations that negate the need for plastic water bottles to concentrated products, you can reduce your small business's packaging needs. You can also check your suppliers: Find out which ones are wasteful and which suppliers align with your commitment to bettering the planet.

Got a shipment in a plastic bin or sturdy box? Turn those items into long-term storage containers. And when you ship to customers, consider the materials you're delivering your products in; after all, you're sending a message with every shipment. And, of course, another obvious benefit is cost – the less packaging used, the less your small business budget takes a hit.

Walking the green walk means more than making a few adjustments. If you're truly invested in sustainability as a way of life, you have to look beyond what's happening in-house to what your vendors and partners do. Also, consider every step your small business takes today, as they all have ripple effects.

Stephen Lewis
Stephen Lewis
See Stephen Lewis's Profile
Stephen Lewis is the technical director at milliCare, where he manages all equipment, methods, and products for the floor and textile cleaning company. Stephen, a certified senior carpet inspector and an IICRC master textile cleaner, has proudly served milliCare for almost 30 years.
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