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Balancing sustainability and excellence: the changing landscape of ESG

Published 22nd September, 2023 by Neil Nixon

Balancing sustainability and excellence: the changing landscape of ESG

The cleaning sector has always been aware of its potential environmental impact and has taken great strides over the years to reduce its carbon footprint. Customer insights from cleaning product manufacturer, Robert Scott, have highlighted just how fundamental sustainability considerations have become to how the sector behaves and makes decisions. Here, Alastair Scott, sales director at Robert Scott, explores why Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance (ESG) has become more important to the sector and highlights the many areas and innovations companies can take advantage of as they strive to navigate ESG challenges while upholding their commitment to operational excellence.

An expanding priority

ESG considerations have become crucial touchpoints for modern businesses, serving as guides for ethical and sustainable practices. The cleaning industry is increasingly embracing and leading in this shift.

Indeed, recent customer insights have found that almost four in five (78%) cleaning businesses acknowledge the significant importance of sustainability for their clients in 2023. Moreover, over a third (34%) identify sustainability as the most significant trend of the year, with another 27% highlighting the need to address plastic waste. But while ESG principles may be increasingly steering the industry forward, its core mission remains constant – delivering impeccable cleaning results. The shared goal is therefore one of balancing excellent performance with strong environmental responsibility.

Areas that cleaning businesses can look to in meeting their ESG goals include: the use of products featuring high levels of recycled content; working with more products that can be used again and again; the adoption of chemical-free alternatives; and the integration of locally manufactured and distributed supplies.

Reducing waste in product design

In recent years, a number of new product developments have been brought to market to support cleaning businesses in meeting their ESG goals and demonstrate their commitment to conserving resources. Quite often, these innovations centre around increasing the reusability of products and/or the use of recycled materials in manufacture.

Small changes in the design of something like a traditional mophead and socket system can make a big impact. That can include, for example, changing the fabric make up so that mops can be washed many times over or replacing disposable sockets with reusable options that don’t need to be thrown away with every mophead change. In the case of reusable sockets, the average mop socket contains 25g of plastic, so the environmental benefit of switching the design quickly adds up.

In addition, certain leading manufacturers, including Robert Scott, have introduced more sustainable products such as 100% recycled cleaning cloths and mops crafted from cotton waste. Other products focused on waste reduction include the likes of reusable spray bottles made from 100% recyclable plastic bottles and recycled professional buckets.

The collective benefits of switching to such products is substantial. Our calculations have found that the use of recycled-content buckets from Robert Scott alone saves over 100 tonnes of virgin plastic per year.

Reducing harmful chemicals

Traditional cleaning agents often contain harmful chemicals that can adversely affect both human health and the environment, as well as producing large volumes of plastic waste, transportation miles and manufacturing resources. By opting for products that use more natural ingredients and biodegradable formulations, cleaning companies can minimise their ecological footprint while creating healthier indoor environments.

The Toucan eco range, for example, requires just water, salt and electricity to make an endless supply of eco-friendly antibacterial cleaner that’s virtually free and reduces around 80% of a typical user’s plastic waste. It’s already trusted by major organisations such as The Restaurant Group and Royal Mail.

Sourcing and supply chain localisation

A pivotal aspect of ESG integration is the transformation of supply chains to minimise global transportation footprints by focusing as much as possible on onshore or nearshore sourcing.

Our commitment to sourcing greener materials and increasing local production by 20% mirrors this philosophy. This two-pronged strategy not only reduces carbon emissions, but also bolsters local economies. Further innovations that suppliers are making with their logistics include the likes of ‘backhaul’ services. Instead of haulage vehicles travelling empty on the roads after a delivery, they return with a shipment over part or all of the route.

This is something we have introduced with two of our partners and have quantified that it equates to a saving of three full trucks a week. Impressive results based on simply looking at more efficient ways of moving goods across the country.

All packaged up

Packaging cannot be overlooked for its potential to reduce the carbon impact of the cleaning sector; indeed, many leading manufacturers in the sector are looking at ways to reduce the packaging waste in their products. At Robert Scott, for example, we aim to use at least 30% recycled material in packaging where possible.

Vacuum compressed packaging, meanwhile, is helping to make loading more efficient and therefore reduce the number of journeys needed to transport products. Manufacturers are also looking at ways to replace the likes of plastic bubble wrap for more reusable and recycled alternatives to protect products and fill voids during transportation.

Social outreach and employee well-being

ESG encompasses more than just the environment; it also includes social responsibility and employee welfare. That’s something that many companies hold close to their hearts and we’re certainly proud of our connections with local communities, sports teams, educational facilities and charitable organisations.

This inclusive approach must extend inward as well. We have implemented a range of measures to ensure fair treatment, diversity, and inclusion for our employees, for example. And this is an area that we certainly see of growing importance to the entire cleaning industry.

With the sector employing operatives from a wide range of backgrounds and currently going through a challenging period in terms of staff shortages, it’s more important than ever to ensure that the sector is seen as a welcoming and attractive one for prospective new entrants.

ESG's guiding light

The move towards ESG integration is certainly no mere fad; it represents a fundamental shift. By placing environmental and social responsibility front and centre in our collective practices and priorities, we’re all moving towards a cleaner, more responsible future.

However, the sector must balance driving positive change with ensuring the continuing high performance of its services. We’ve made it a priority to support the industry in doing that through our own investments and innovations and also by our commitment to inform our customers and partners about ways to reduce environmental impact without compromising on operational excellence.

The results are transformative. Businesses that truly embrace ESG typically find that it brings with it new ways to increase efficiencies, improve results and develop ever better relationships with their customers, communities and employees. Put simply, it’s a win-win situation.

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