How do you know if a cleaning service is actually sustainable? What does 'sustainability' really mean in cleaning?
A sustainable cleaning service, also known as 'eco' cleaning service, green cleaning service or sometimes environmentally friendly cleaning service, can have many different interpretations and meanings.
A definition of 'being sustainable'
I studied 'Sustainable Enterprises' as my major in university. I also worked in multiple businesses whose core values were based on sustainability.
I have found that there are many different interpretations of sustainability, especially in the sudden rise in popularity of the word. Whilst I'm always learning about different issues and ideas, this is the general consensus I have come to (which will, inevitably, change in due time).
Individuals and businesses alike are starting to use the word for a whole range of products, lifestyles or opinions about certain subjects. Which of these are really sustainable and how can you tell?
Sustainability, or 'to be sustainable', literally means the ability to utilise resources now, without impacting the future's ability to utilise the same resources.
For example, if I had a box of Shapes (pizza flavoured, duh), I could choose to eat the entire box in one sitting and not leave any for my future self.
As the Shapes are not going to magically regenerate, this is considered a 'finite resource'. Something that will never be able to return to its original Shapey goodness. I will never be able to eat that same box of Shapes ever again.
Although, if I chose to eat a few at a time, I would ensure I was able to eat shapes well into my, and maybe my partners (if he's lucky...) future. This is considered 'sustainable'.
This is true for our natural resources as well, although it's a little more complicated. If you cut down a tree in a forest, that tree has most likely provided the right nutrients, seeds and germination to grow the trees around it. Eventually, other trees will replace that one tree you've taken.
As the 'eco-system services' surrounding that tree ensures the forest continues to grow more trees, it is considered a 'renewable resource'. This means the trees will continue replacing themselves and growing even though you cut down that one tree.
Unfortunately, if you cut down that whole forest, or the largest, most important tree, there is a very slim chance that the forest would be able to regenerate itself as the ecosystem has been destroyed.
This is considered being unsustainable because even though you have more trees now, there will be none for you in the future.
If you wished to be 'sustainable' when cutting down trees, you would need to consider how many trees you could cut down before you destroy the ecosystem to ensure there was always trees for yours (and others') future.
So how does this apply to products or services? Let's break it down further.
Since the inception of 'green businesses', many have used it as a marketing ploy to make more profit. This is called 'greenwashing' and is seen in products, services and throughout businesses all over the world.
An example of greenwashing is the humble bamboo toothbrush. If anyone is interested in sustainability, this is often the first item you purchase on your way to reducing your impact on the planet through waste.
Your good intentions may be misinformed, as there are many companies capitalising on the trend of bamboo toothbrushes. These are the questions you should ask yourself before you buy it:
What is the package made out of? Is it plastic, cardboard or something else? How would you dispose of the packaging?
Who made the toothbrush? Was it made where people are getting paid fairly and treated properly?
Where is the bamboo from? Were the bamboo forests managed sustainably?
What are the bristles made out of? Are they plastic?
Where has it come from? Did it travel down the road? Or from another country?
Where do I dispose of my toothbrush once I have finished with it? Can it be recycled? Composted?
If you can't answer any of those questions when looking at that toothbrush, chances are it's a greenwashed product.
A company has seen the upward trend of people buying bamboo toothbrushes to be more 'sustainable' and have decided to do the same with the label 'eco' or 'enviro-friendly!', even without being so.
There are very few restrictions on how businesses use words associated with sustainability, making it very easy to pretend to be 'green'.
A truly 'sustainable' bamboo toothbrush would have transparent and readily available information on all of the questions above. This means they have considered the 'triple bottom line' of their product. What is that you ask?
The Three Pillars of Sustainability
Sustainability in business has been defined as consideration of three main elements: profit, people and planet.
Most businesses are already concerned with their economical standing, making most decisions based on how it will affect their back pocket.
Sustainability is expanding that concern into the impact their decisions may have on society and the environment encompassing us.
By considering and trying to reduce the negative impact you or your business has on your community and the wider environment, you are technically being sustainable.
This makes their business more sustainable and ensures our society and the planet will be available as it is right now for others in the future.
Technically? That's not perfectly sustainable? Well, no not really. But that's okay.
In the world at the moment, it is increasingly hard to be perfectly sustainable due to underfunding to research, overpricing of sustainable resources and the accessibility of information.
Just like your intentions to buy a more sustainable toothbrush, there are many businesses out there who are doing their damndest to be as sustainable as possible but may not tick off every box on the list.
Suppliers may lie to them, or a political crisis might make the recycling industry completely redundant (see: China's ban on contaminated recyclables). There will always be barriers to becoming sustainable.
What's really important is this: it's okay. Don't give up.
Seek the best possible sustainable alternative. If you can't find any other bamboo toothbrush except that one wrapped in plastic, it's still a step better than your traditional toothbrush.
Putting pressure on the economy to say, 'Hey, we want sustainability to be easier, more affordable and accessible to all', will eventually work. The more we demand it, the more the market will respond to it, and the more Governments will work to make it happen.
Okay, you get it now, but what does this mean in cleaning?
To be a sustainable cleaning business, it means we are taking as many steps as possible to reduce our negative impact on the planet, our society and ultimately our profits.
Billy's Bond Cleaning looks at sustainability in three ways: the products we use, the techniques we use to clean and how much we are supporting our local community.
A sustainable product, as we discussed earlier, is something which has been deeply considerate of the three pillars.
The whole lifecycle of the product, from being manufactured to its end of life stages, is crucial to deciding if that product is truly sustainable.
For example, our oxy-cleaner which we use to scrub grout, kill mould and whiten tiles. We buy it from a local bulk food store where we bring our own containers and fill them up.
Every item at that store has a very specific ingredients list and any warnings or descriptions on the use of the product.
This particular store also reuses all of their bulk containers to ensure the large crates, buckets and bins are reused and reused and reused.
The specific oxy-cleaner we buy is made with minerals, which are generally non-toxic and naturally occurring.
It is also made in Australia, reducing it's overall carbon footprint as it wasn't shipped from halfway around the globe.
Unfortunately, we can't find any readily available information on the manufacturers of the individual ingredients, so we don't know exactly who made them and how they were treated.
But, once we use the last little bit of it, we rinse the jar and fill it up once more. No waste!
So, whilst it's not 100% the most sustainable, green, eco, environmentally friendly product, it's what we have access to. It ticks most of the boxes (right now) and we always keep an ear out for better options.
All of our products are put through a similar rigorous examination of its true sustainability. Some we make at home like our DIY all-purpose spray.
It actually diverts waste from going to landfill (and only costs 15c to make!) We still use a plastic spray bottle, but that's because we believe it's better if we reuse that from our old cleaning product than going out and buying a brand new one.
A lot of traditional cleaners use a range of interesting and varying cleaning products and chemicals.
Each of these has a specific purpose and generally use a certain active ingredient which breaks down scum, mould, dirt or stains as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Generally speaking, these chemicals are both harmful to the environment and harmful to us. All for the sake of convenience?
As a sustainable cleaning company, we find our efficiency in good old elbow grease.
All of our cleaners are trained to know the industry tips and tricks to remove stubborn stains and marks from almost any surface without the use of harsh chemical cleaners.
And ultimately, you end up with a cleaner space for it. Our attention to detail and ability to see beyond just your average spray and wipe cleaners, we seek out marks and work to remove them.
Finally, we seriously consider our community. Have you ever heard of a successful business who didn't care about the customers they see every day? I didn't think so.
As a sustainable business, we are actually working to improve our society by providing services to those who otherwise struggle to afford a traditional cleaning company.
We don't have any minimums and we tailor every quote to you. Making it as affordable and specific as necessary.
We are also part of our community. We go to farmers markets and eat out at local cafes. We enjoy community events and take part in supporting our local businesses. There is nothing more important than buying and being local.
Being a sustainable cleaning company means so much more than just thinking about how we are disposing of our waste.
It goes into where our products come from, how they were made and where it's going to end up once it's finished. We find ways to clean that avoid using the harsh chemicals but come up with the same (often better) results.
Becoming sustainable, whether as a business or yourself, is ultimately the extent at which you go to mitigate your negative impact on the world around you.
At the moment, it can seem pretty confusing to know who to trust and which is the best option. Ultimately, you may not be 100% sustainable all the time, but taking any step forward is better than nothing.
Let's keep working to ensure this earth is preserved for our future! We'll get there eventually. Don't you think?