With products and processes readily available, and competitive prices, green cleaning is quickly becoming a best practice in the industry. So a good strategy is to ask if the vendor can create value in other ways, in addition to the green cleaning itself. For example, the vendor may have marketing and communication tools to help inform and educate building occupants about the green cleaning program. These can include stickers for restroom mirrors, articles for internal occupant/tenant newsletters, tent cards for occupants' desks, door hangers, occupant education such as information on improving recycling programs, or programs to help with events such as for an Earth Day celebration or a safety and health fair. While these may not directly affect the cleaning of the building, they could create real value.
If community recognition and publicity is valuable to the organization, then ask the vendor how it can help with this effort as well. For example, there are now several green cleaning awards programs that can provide some nice recognition for the building. Vendors may be able to help with this. After all, getting an "atta boy" or "atta girl" from an outside organization could be valuable PR. And if the vendor can help with this, ask if it has examples of what it has done for others. Good intentions are important, but if the vendor has done it for others, it is more likely that it can get you similar recognition.
This is a question about "walking the talk." It's an opportunity to determine if the vendor's green cleaning program is simply an optional product or service offering or whether it is important enough that the company recognizes the value and does green cleaning itself. Experience indicates that the latter organizations are the real experts and can bring the most value, especially as the issue continues to evolve.
Other ways to gauge a vendor's commitment to green include asking if the vendor has a LEED-certified building, if it collects data on its own sustainability efforts, if it has established reduction targets and if it is publishing a sustainability report.
Historically, facility managers selected a cleaning services vendor based on what it charged to meet a scope of work containing specific requirements and including detailed tasks and frequencies. Product selection was very specific, even using specific brand names or "similar" products. But this strategy assumes that the way things have always been done is the best. So when evaluating a vendor, ask what it would do if it began with a blank sheet of paper. After all, the vendor should be the cleaning expert.
The vendor's answers to this question can provide a lot of insight. Some vendors may have spent considerable time trying to understand an organization's specific needs and situation, and based on experience, some vendors may offer lots of ideas to improve the program, reduce environmental impacts, improve health, promote the building and save money.
Stephen Ashkin is president of The Ashkin Group, LLC. He has worked on the issue of green cleaning since 1990. Ashkin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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