Dr. Olson

Eco-Friendly Practices

Take a Systematic Approach to Your Cleaning Program's Sustainability

By Lynne A. Olson, RD&E Corporate Scientist, Global Sustainability, ECOLAB

The terms "sustainable" and "green" are both broadly understood, yet have no widely accepted or actionable definition. For example, if a guest inquires, "Do you have a green or sustainable cleaning program at your property?" there are at least two ways to respond:

"It depends, what is your definition of 'sustainable' or 'green'?" Once defined, you can respond by measuring your lodging cleaning program against the proposed definition. Or alternatively, you could say "yes," and then clearly explain your definition of "sustainable". However, this means you must have defined sustainability for your brand, or borrowed and adopted definitions from other reputable sources.

Over the last several years lodging properties have been driven to answer this kind of question and almost always borrow their definitions of a sustainable cleaning program from other sources. In North America, the most widely borrowed definitions for sustainability, in the context of lodging and facility cleaning, are adopted from the US Green Building Council LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) standard, which points to multi-attribute, eco-certifications (Green Seal, US EPA Safer Choice and UL) for guidance in selecting cleaning and janitorial products such as trash bags, toilet paper, hard surface, floor and hand care products. Trip Advisor has taken a similar approach to that described in the LEED standard, but implemented the guidance as a pared down, simplified self-survey.

During the past several years many corporations have implemented "sustainable" lodging cleaning programs leveraging borrowed definitions of sustainability. More recently, leadership organizations have started looking back and asking if these efforts are resulting in real, measurable improvements. If the key driver was to be able to consistently answer the "sustainable cleaning program" question, many of these initiatives have provided a response. But, has this approach lead to real, measurable results? Good question, but difficult to answer since in most cases results and impact reduction are not systematically considered in developing a sustainable lodging cleaning program.

To address this gap, the Sustainable Purchasing Leadership Council (SPLC), a nonprofit organization, is devoted to simplifying and standardizing sustainable purchasing for the Institutional market. It does this by delivering the best available sustainable purchasing guidance to Institutional buyers within a process-based approach that ensures sustainable purchasing programs strategically identify, address and measure real results and impacts. Founded in 2013, the Council has already attracted 180 member organizations with more than $200 billion in collective purchasing power. Several hospitality organizations are involved as Council members, including Caesars, Hilton, MGM Resorts, Avendra and Vizient. As the Council's work spreads, clear purchasing requirements will reward suppliers that design effective products and systems with real and measureable benefits. That market demand will give suppliers the confidence to invest in sustainable innovation in a way that will take sustainability from "random acts of greenness" to business as usual.

To embark on a truly systematic sustainable cleaning program, it is foundational to identify the impacts that are relevant and specific to your property and brand aspirations. For lodging, potential impact falls into five main buckets: cleaning program performance, guest comfort and employee exposure, proper product application, solid waste and water.

Performance - Guest satisfaction, housekeeping job satisfaction, and brand reputation are all at stake. A sustainable lodging cleaning program must not compromise cleaning performance.

Employee Exposure and Guest Comfort - Many housekeeping activities require manual application and close contact with a range of cleaning products in guest rooms or public areas in the "front of the house." The goal is to select products and systems that reduce exposure risks and indoor air-quality concerns.

Proper Use and Application - Most managers do not realize the significant negative operational impacts that result from lack of training in the proper use and application of cleaning products and delivery systems. For example, spills and accidents put employees at risk and disrupt operations, failing to properly dilute a product concentrate can result in poor cleaning and sanitizing performance, and using the wrong product on sensitive surfaces (e.g., marble) can result in significant costs and waste generation. To protect people and material assets it is important to reduce misuse and mishandling of products by ensuring appropriate training and service.

Solid Waste Impacts - Cleaning products are shipped, stored and delivered in packaging designed to protect the product, people and environment from exposure. Sometimes, cleaning products are provided as very dilute solutions in spray bottles that rapidly fill waste containers. It is important to consider packaging and waste in purchasing decisions.

Water Impacts - Lodging properties are most often located in populated areas with lots of neighbors, or in unique habitats of interest to tourists that if diminished, will no longer be tourist attractions. Cleaning and sanitizing are water based processes which means that most of the time the sewer is the "end of life" for cleaning chemistry. To address this impact, the lodging cleaning program can include products designed for low impact sewer discharge and compatibility with the natural environment.

Once impacts of importance are outlined it can be incorporated into defining a systematic approach to a sustainable lodging cleaning program. Instead of borrowing definitions, an SPLC like "Process" can be used to define a unique lodging cleaning program that addresses impacts relevant to your property, guests and employees. Additionally, progress against those impacts can be measured, tracked and reported in a cycle of continuous improvement. For lodging, this process can be distilled into a four step framework: Analyze, Plan, Implement and Report.

Step #1 - Analyze

The first step is to analyze or benchmark the current products and services associated with your lodging cleaning programs across all properties. As a starting point, key benchmarking data to consider include:

Property / Location - List the current product purchases for each property along with the location. This will allow you to compare and contrast the product mix across properties. Some product mix differences could be driven by regionally specific conditions, such as the water supply. For example, Phoenix, Arizona, is well known for high TDS (total dissolved solids) water, and some specialized products may be required for optimum results.

Product Function Application - Is the product used for floor cleaning, or as a bathroom sanitizer? Typical application categories for lodging cleaning programs include: all purpose, bathroom and fixture cleaners and disinfectants, floor & carpet care, scale control aids, sanitizers, air fresheners and odor counteractants, and hand care sanitizers and soaps, as well as specialty products for stone care and metal polishing.

Product Supplier / Product Name - List current suppliers and product trade names.

Product Packaging - How is the product delivered? Is it a liquid in a five gallon pail, a concentrate or solid to be diluted or dissolved on site? How much packaging is associated with the primary (product package) and secondary (box or case)?

Packaging Disposal Method - Product packaging can feed into corporate waste reduction goals. Does the property have a recycling service as part of the waste management program? Are the primary and secondary packages recyclable? Are there any components that must be disassembled before recycling?

Product Delivery Method and Equipment - If the product is not a RTU (Ready To Use), a dilution system will dilute and deliver the product at the correct concentration for each application.

Concentrated Products - Concentration reduces the product size and weight, both reducing packaging waste and making it easier to handle. Additionally, the transportation footprint is reduced, along with the energy consumed per unit for transportation. Whether innovating to a solid block cleaning products, or concentrating a liquid it is a win-win both for the user and the environment.

Concentrated Solid Products - Based on their form, products delivered as solid blocks or in water soluble pouches cannot dust, splash or spill. Solids offer ultimate concentration and compaction along with reduced employee exposure impacts. These products are diluted right at the use location with a specially designed dispensing system, or handled as a unit does and manually diluted on site.

Concentrated Liquid Product, Closed Dilution System - Concentrating liquids provides all of the same sustainability benefits, but can also increase employee exposure impacts. To leverage the concentration benefits, while minimizing exposure risks, concentrates are often packaged and dispensed using closed dilution systems. The liquid packaging is designed with a fitting that closes automatically and rapidly when clicked into the dispensing system. This packaging and delivery system renders the liquid concentrate nearly inaccessible employees and avoids exposure to the concentrate.

Perceived Performance - Is the staff happy with the products and program? This is a good time to get input, perhaps using a 1-10 rating scale and an opportunity for comments.

Use Dilution - Concentrated products will be diluted on site to the appropriate concentration specifically defined for the cleaning product, application and regional conditions. This concentration is the "use dilution." The product Safety Data Sheet should provide the highest applicable use dilution for the product.

Use Cost - Historically, when the majority of lodging cleaning products were sold as RTU's in five gallon pails, unit price cost comparisons where simple and relatively realistic. However, as sustainability and handling benefits have driven suppliers toward increasingly concentrated products, the number of "doses" per container must be included in the cost comparison calculation.

Personal Protective Equipment as Used - Does the product require the employee to wear gloves, goggles or an apron while using the product? It is important to look at the use solution section of the product Safety Data Sheet.

Current Inventory - The product inventory on hand will be used in Step #2, Planning. If you decided to test a new cleaning program or make supplier changes inventory levels and storage availability can factor in where to test, and where to move inventory for phase out.

Sources for this information include: procurement and operations teams and product or service suppliers.

Step #2 - Plan

Evaluate the current state data gathered in step #1, against the impacts of importance. Identify strategies that can be tracked and measured around these opportunities, and incorporate them into your strategic plan. For example, opportunities can include:

  • Training employees on proper product usage and procedures.
  • Changing the product mix and/or dispensing systems.
  • Changing or consolidating product suppliers.
  • Outsourcing to a building service contractor and defining the cleaning program desired performance outcomes as part of the contract.

Step #3 - Implement

At this point, the foundation is built, and key decisions are made, but the most impactful work is still ahead. Implementation is the make or break step of the process. Here, change management, clear priorities, and crisp communications are all critical. The most significant opportunities can be identified and prioritized based on the benchmarking data. For example, perhaps guest and employee exposure is a key impact reduction opportunity. Prioritize by targeting the highest volume products, and identify products and systems from the current or a new supplier that will minimize exposure impacts and meet cost/performance requirements. Always consider a test of one or two options before implementing a sweeping change! During the test phase at one or two locations you can determine if the alternate system will deliver the use cost/performance in addition to the desired impact reductions.

Step #4 - Report

With a systematically designed, impact-driven sustainable lodging cleaning program, it is now possible to measure and report results. The Key Performance Indicators (KPI's) are specific to your property and your brand aspirations since they are not selected randomly, but rather address relevant impacts and opportunities in your program or your product mix. Continuing with our example, perhaps the impact opportunity for your property is guest and employee exposure reduction. Please find below a sample reporting dashboard detailing exposure considerations, along with KPI's that can be used to measure and monitor impact reduction. The dashboard is used as a simplified look at sustainable attributes and is designed to view the product line as a whole while prioritizing products used every day (Daily) from Specialty products designed for occasional problem solving.

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Performance - How does the housekeeping staff view the product performance on a scale of 1-10?

Estimated Monthly Cost/use - Unit cost of the product as delivered, divided by the number of doses per container multiplied by the estimated number of product units (buckets, cases..) needed per month.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) as Used - Because of the benefits of concentrated solid and liquid products, most suppliers now provide Safety Data Sheets that give the safety information both at concentrate and at use dilution. Since the user and occupants are exposed to the use solution, the KPI is PPE "as used". This means that at use dilution, the product will not carry:

  • GHS pictogram for acute dermal toxicity as used
  • GHS pictogram for skin irritation as used
  • GHS health hazard classification as used
  • Or be categorized in GHS as a sensitizer as used No PPE as used makes it simpler to train employees on the safe effective use of the products, and is positive for guest perception.

Fragrances - If the product has a fragrance, it is screened to ensure comfort of users and occupants meeting IFRA (International Fragrance Association) guidelines for exposure.

Volatile Organic Compounds - Products have minimized % volatile organic compounds (VOC) as prescribed by CARB for each application, and less than 10% VOC in the product concentrate.

Supplier Support

  • SDS / Training. It is important that the supplier provide information and training for safe and proper use of all products.
  • Ensure the product and dispensing systems are installed and calibrated correctly and assist in training facility employees. Training can include:

  • Maintaining compliance with recommended product list

  • Matching the right laundry product to the right cleaning challenge
  • Proper product application/dosage
  • Appropriate safety precautions, such as proper ventilation and use of gloves, masks, etc.
  • Using the correct cleaning method for the type of product or facility
  • Availability of training materials in the language used by workers
  • Training in compliance protocol regarding OSHA requirements for personal protective equipment (PPE), Globally Harmonized System (GHS) for product labels and safety data sheets, etc.
  • Proper storage, handling, disposal, and recycling of products and associated packaging

When your lodging cleaning program provides both the highest levels of guest satisfaction and addresses safety, health and environment impacts relevant to your business and your customer it is a win-win program. This type of outcome can be achieved by taking a systematic, impact-driven approach that includes analyzing your current program, planning and prioritizing, then thoughtfully implementing, reporting and tracking results with an eye toward continuous improvement.

Lynne Olson is a Corporate Scientist for Global Sustainability at Ecolab Inc. Dr. Olson helps drive growth for Ecolab and its customers by embedding sustainability thought leadership into innovation management, product offerings, and sector-level standardization of sustainable growth benchmarks. Dr. Olson has more than 30 years of experience in product development, and program management, which has resulted in many individual and group patents. Lynne was part of the first Ecolab team trained as Lean Six Sigma (LSS) Black Belts, and led several significant process improvement projects. After LSS work, she was part of the founding group that defined and deployed the current Ecolab Corporate Sustainability team. Dr. Olson can be contacted at 651-795-5737 or lynne.olson@ecolab.com Please visit http://www.ecolab.com for more information. Extended Bio...

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