Sustainable practices around people, products, and procurement are crucial for the success of many cleaning and facility management companies in New Zealand – global pandemic or not.
With the emphasis on doing deep-cleans and wiping out viruses during the pandemic, some sceptics may have expected environmental issues to fall off the radar for cleaning service companies and suppliers.
Not Sarel Bloem, executive general manager of PPCS, a leading professional provider of facility and cleaning services throughout New Zealand.
He is spearheading the business’s long-term sustainability drive and believes high-quality, green cleaning products are viable in any market at any time.
“I don’t agree that we have to move away from sustainable products because of COVID-19,” he says.
“There’s a lot of sustainable products that do kill the coronavirus and other viruses.”
The business prides itself on using environmentally friendly cleaning chemicals and agents; minimising the use of power, water and chemicals; and cutting carbon emissions through means such as using fuel-efficient vehicles.
“We could use the pandemic as an excuse to go back to the bleaches of the world that kill anything and everything, including the environment, but we’ve made sure that we don’t do that,” Bloem says.
Keeping the faith
While OCS has had to reconsider the use of some chemicals during COVID-19, the business’s managing director Australia & New Zealand, Gareth Marriott, says if anything his team has upped the ante on its strong environmental and social pledges.
“As an industry, and certainly it is the case with ourselves, we’re even more committed to our sustainability goals,” says Marriott, who oversees 25 New Zealand branches and operations in Australia that handle facility management services and commercial cleaning.
“We’ve seen massive reductions in our carbon emissions during the pandemic due to lower travel movements. This has made many industries, not just cleaning, realise the possibilities of reducing travel and embracing other technologies to engage our teams, our customers, and our suppliers. We’re all keenly focused on climate change and carbon reduction and we’re all much more aware of the impact we have on the world around us and how imbalances in nature can affect us.”
Earlier this year, OCS achieved Toitū ‘carbonzero’ certification for its Australian and New Zealand businesses and the wider global business has set its sights on achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2040.
Nevertheless, Marriott admits that there have been some setbacks, too, with the pandemic necessitating reverting to chemicals with proven efficacy against the coronavirus.
“In many cases, the use of environmentally friendly chemical applications has ceased altogether in line with recommendations from the World Health Organisation,” he says.
“Once we can, we’ll continue to work with our chemical suppliers and health experts to provide our customers with alternative, safe solutions that are also kinder on our planet.”
In the meantime, one of the focal points of the business’s sustainability efforts is employee welfare.
Marriott says the pandemic has made OCS more acutely aware of the holistic wellness of its team members, “ensuring they feel safe and protected, as well as actually being protected”.
“Rolling lockdowns, particularly in our Australian and Auckland businesses, have had impacts on people’s mental health, so support around wellness has stepped up.”
OCS is also exploring ways with suppliers and stakeholders to better manage PPE waste given the steep increase in demand for gear such as disposable masks, coveralls, and overshoes during COVID-19.
At commercial cleaning equipment leader i-team, sustainability also remains front of mind.
“From what we see and hear talking to larger institutions, sustainability is not going away,” says Steve Bagshaw, i-team’s Regional Ambassador for Australia and New Zealand.
“If anything there’s an increasing drive and awareness to look at solutions that are effective, yet which improve outcomes from an environmental and sustainability perspective.”
For some years, i-team has been an ambassador for the Made Blue program, which invests in projects in developing countries to provide clean water for those who do not have access to it.
Under the initiative, cleaning companies and other enterprises can convert the water usage or water savings of their operations into an equal amount of clean drinking water that is made available in water-deprived communities.
Bagshaw says the water savings created by i-team’s signature product, the i-mop, make it a valuable contributor to Made Blue.
“Made Blue is an absolute winner for i-team,” he says. “Because of the fact that there’s no action required by the end user it sometimes can be forgotten about, but it’s a fantastic story and every time we raise the program in a conversation with clients there’s a lot of excitement.”
Making a difference
PPCS is managing an extensive range of innovative programs in the sustainability space. It is Telarc ISO 14001:2015 accredited, which means it has deployed an environment management system that makes the business aware of any impacts its cleaning has on the environment and how it can mitigate those effects.
The four key pillars of the business’s sustainability strategy are ‘people’, ‘environment’, ‘procurement’ and ‘community’. The key, according to Bloem, is having the ability to repeat sustainable practices over and over again.
“At the end of the day it doesn’t matter what that is – whether it’s your people or procurement or anything else, the practices that we have must be able to continue indefinitely.”
With procurement, that has meant favouring New Zealand-manufactured products if possible, rather than relying on cheap imports from overseas that could be subject to supply-chain bottlenecks.
“We’d rather have a New Zealand-owned company that manufactures here,” Bloem says. “And we always try to find partners who have that same sustainability outlook.”
Practicing what it preaches, PPCS has recently decided to consolidate all its paper supplies with domestic workplace hygiene supplier Tork, which sells products such as wipes and cloths, toilet paper, hand towels and napkins.
“Yes, their pricing may be slightly higher than some others, but their paper all comes from sustainable forests,” Bloem explains.
Other actions are also making a difference. Earlier this year, PPCS introduced a solar-powered smart-waste compactor bin, The Big Belly Bin, into New Zealand’s largest shopping centre, Sylvia Park, and more recently at various parks and reserves for Auckland Council in the west.
“Not only does it look pretty and improve customer interaction, but the bin also reduces collections by up to about 80 per cent which requires fewer truck rolls,” says Crystal du Preez, marketing and sales coordinator at PPCS. The efficient bin cuts down on the use of liners, too.
Du Preez says PPCS feels it is imperative to not only have measures in place to minimise the company’s effect on the environment, but to monitor and improve on those initiatives.
“We have, therefore, undergone the Toitu Carbon Assessment for financial year 2020, which allows us to measure our carbon emissions under the international standard for carbon footprints and according to ISO 14064-1. The assessment includes vehicles, business travel, fuel and electricity, paper and waste.”
Improving environmental outcomes
A new, green distribution centre in the Netherlands is evidence of i-team’s global commitment to sustainability. All water used on the site is captured and recycled, while it is also a fully solar-powered site.
Closer to home, Bagshaw notes that i-team insists on five fundamentals when releasing any cleaning products – they must be faster, cleaner, greener, safer and better. The i-mop fits clearly into those must-haves, including delivering a safer and better product for users when they are cleaning.
“That really started with the i-mop when we talked about liberating the cleaner from the mop and bucket and the connotations and the actual physically hard work that goes with the job. We give them a machine that’s fun to use and turns a difficult, challenging and often boring task into one that’s enjoyable.”
A more interesting and safer job becomes a more sustainable one.
At PPCS, one of its sustainable initiatives has been the use of electric or hybrid vehicles. It has one electric rubbish truck in its fleet and 17 other electric vehicles, as well as more than 20 hybrid vehicles that are used for longer trips.
“The promise that we make is that every vehicle we buy should be electric, but if that won’t work logistically, we go hybrid and only if that’s not going to work do we look at a standard vehicle,” Bloem says.
A strong second-hand imported vehicle market from Japan usually provides the opportunity to pick up cost-effective electric vehicles with low mileage. However, current shipping delays are making access to such vehicles more difficult for now.
In line with its sustainability goals, PPCS knows it makes business sense to look after its employees.
“We want to have the best people working for us, so we’ll continue looking after them in a sustainable way,” Bloem says.
Simple but significant gestures can make a difference, including giving all staff a half a day off to go and get vaccinated against COVID-19.
“Cleaning wages aren’t always necessarily the highest, so if people have to take a half day off to get the jab that could cost them the chance to put dinner on the table.”
Also on the people front, du Preez notes that PPCS is a signatory to a MECA deal to provide workers with wage protections, ensuring its staff earn more than the minimum wage.
“That’s been great for our staff because the more we pay the better it makes their lives,” she says. “Everyone deserves to live with dignity and earn a fair living.”
In the past year, PPCS has also been pursuing strategies to get more people with a disability into its employee ranks.
With more than 120 years in the cleaning business, OCS is confident that strong sustainability policies, including looking after its people, will allow it to thrive for many more years.
“If we don’t look after our people we don’t have a business,” Marriott says. “They’re our absolute heroes.”
OCS has committed to paying all team members the MECA rate ($20.30 an hour) at a minimum and it is working with clients such as Waikato City Council and Christchurch City Council to pay staff working on their sites the living wage.
In May this year, Marriott was invited on to a Modern Slavery Leadership Advisory Panel convened by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.
“Our business is a people business,” Marriott says.
“That ethos continues today. We want to see our business thriving and supporting future generations and the only way we can do that is to ensure that we are contributing towards a more sustainable future.”
Although there are challenges, especially during a pandemic, he believes that businesses such as OCS can have a positive impact “for our children and our children’s children”.
“If the past 18 months have taught us anything, it’s that people matter. And we want to make sure we’re providing the right kind of future for everyone.”
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