Perfect chemistry

A focus on sustainability is giving ACCO Brands’ popular range of cleaning products and chemicals an edge as government, corporate customers, and the wider pubic increasingly demand environmentally friendly cleaning options.

As the custodian of some of the world’s most trusted stationery lines such as Artline, Texta, and Spirax, ACCO Brands is well aware of the importance of protecting its brands.

That is why the company is applying the same rigour to the quality and sustainability of its cleaning chemicals and janitorial supplies in the Australian and New Zealand markets.

Northfork, which is part of the ACCO Brands portfolio, sells a range of chemical products, deodorisers, disinfectants and sanitisers via B2B suppliers such as Winc and retailers including Officeworks, Office National, and Chemical Specialty Resellers.

A number of its products are certified through Good Environmental Choice Australia (GECA), which runs Australia’s only not for profit ecolabelling program with a mission to help organisations make, buy and do better for people and the planet.

The GECA standards follow ISO 14024 principles and are subject to independent assessment through assurance providers. They include standards for cleaning products and cleaning services to ensure they meet a high level of environmental responsibility.

Ben Antecki, brand manager at ACCO Brands, says signing up to the GECA standards is the business’s way of demonstrating that it is serious about sustainability.

“We need to meet a whole range of rigorous testing that is set by GECA to ensure that our chemical products are biodegradable, phosphate-free and good for the environment,” he says.

“They’re not going to have toxic effects on waterways or marine life.”

Antecki says ACCO Brands and Northfork have two key motivations for embracing GECA principles. First, the company is trying to make a difference in terms of the sustainability of chemicals.

“We wanted to really put a product out there that is genuinely different to all the other chemicals products on the market that showed we are taking a committed step towards preserving the future for our children and our children’s children.”

Second, as a long-time distributor of stationery products through B2B suppliers to government bodies – which place a premium on sustainability when determining tenders – the business sought to ensure that its chemicals division would uphold the same standards as its traditional stationery products.

History of excellence

For more than 25 years, Northfork has been manufacturing cleaning chemicals at its manufacturing facility in Queanbeyan, NSW. The product range covers the gamut from food-service hygiene and washroom products to housekeeping, personal hand care and laundry washing products.

Owned by ACCO Brands – which supplies the retail and commercial sectors with more than 10,000 product lines for use in the home, office and school – the fast-growing chemicals line is seen as a means of creating new market opportunities for the group.

“The stationery market has been our core bread and butter for as long as we’ve been a business, but seeing new opportunities out there we’re moving into other areas such as chemicals and air-purifying products,” Antecki says.

He believes having a domestic manufacturing presence in Queanbeyan gives Northfork a real edge at a time when COVID-19 and the pandemic has disrupted international distribution networks and supply chains.

“We’re very much in this for the long term and we won’t be moving production overseas. We’ll continue supporting Australian-made products.”

ACCO Brands and Northfork are also determined to showcase environmentally friendly chemical options for customers, with the GECA certification being the best-regarded product endorsement available.

Key products in its GECA portfolio are the Northfork Spray-On Wipe-Off Surface Cleaner, which caters for a wide range of cleaning applications and is effective against a broad spectrum of germs; the Northfork Disinfectant Lemon Fragrance, which is a three-in-one cleaner, disinfectant  and deodoriser; and the Northfork Liquid Hand Wash – Antibacterial, which is effective against germs and  safe for the environment.

The business also offers specialised products such as a neutral cleaner and window cleaner that are for use in general housekeeping. .

Antecki says having Northfork in the ACCO Brands stable means the business is at the forefront of sustainable cleaning solutions.

“For us, we ensure that if we have a regular Northfork product we always offer a GECA-certified product from our key range as well.”

Sales surge

On the back of a strong product portfolio and the panic buying that has been associated with COVID-19, Antecki says ACCO Brands and Northfork have had a “stellar year”.

It has not always been easy, however. Northfork sources most of its raw materials and resources, including spray bottles and chemical ingredients, from Australian suppliers.

Nevertheless, global demand for bottles and triggers means that in some instances the business has had to turn to overseas markets to get sufficient supplies, leaving it at the mercy of disrupted supply chains.

“And there has only been so much ethanol on the market that we could buy,” Antecki says.

“So we have been keeping supplies up to customers the best we can.”

Sales of Northfork products are showing consistent results during the COVID-19 pandemic, even while a glut of chemicals in the Australian market continues to be sold down.

“There were a lot of importers that came into Australia and really wanted to strike while the market was hot and then get out,” Antecki says.

“But there are still a lot of residual chemicals in the market from that time.”

Antecki is confident that ACCO Brands’ and Northfork’s commitment to GECA certification will stand them in good stead as the market recovers from COVID-19.

The GECA standards are based on science and are relevant to many Australian industries and products, including the cleaning and cleaning services markets. They reward top-performing products and services.

Antecki says GECA has been supportive of efforts to have products certified. Northfork’s own inhouse chemist works on chemical formulas and liaises with GECA and the relevant compliance officers to ensure that products make the grade. It typically takes up to five months for certification to be finalised.

“But it’s by no means a difficult process,” Antecki adds.

Importantly, Northfork’s customers have responded favourably to the business’s certification drive, which extends to aa biodegradable dishwashing liquid, as well as green window and glass cleaners and a bathroom cleaner.

“Our B2B customers are finding that this is resonating with their end-user customers as well. It’s a very easy switch because the products are of extremely high quality and fit for purpose. So their customers are more than happy to use an environmentally friendly product and see no change in results.”

That is the key, according to Antecki, who says that regardless of any sustainability credentials, cleaning chemicals and products must still do their job.

“We want to put a product out there that is not only fit for purpose, but that is good for the environment, and which represents value for consumers, too.”

So encouraged is Northfork with the success of its GECA-certified range in Australia that it is examining similar initiatives in the New Zealand market, where Environmental Choice New Zealand runs a similar ecolabelling program to GECA.

Education focus

In addition to focusing on the manufacture and distribution of sustainable products, ACCO Brands and Northfork are ramping up education initiatives for customers, including office supply businesses, to drive home the benefits of green policies. They, in turn, can then better inform end users who buy the products from stores.

Antecki says this education effort reflects the fact that many cleaning companies and individuals use chemicals incorrectly, taking the view that tipping a whole bottle of disinfectant into a bucket will be a case of “more does more”.

Rather, he says, the aim should be to encourage cleaners and customers to use the right volume of chemicals for the right job – a scenario that will deliver the best cleaning and hygiene results, as well as the most favourable outcome for the environment.

In the quest to support industry excellence and education, ACCO Brands has signed up as a silver sponsor of the 2021 ISSA Cleaning & Hygiene Expo. Antecki says the expo fits well with the company’s desire to learn from and network with other industry leaders.

“We want the education that ISSA brings so we can apply it to our products.”

In the meantime, ACCO Brands and Northfork will continue to press home the market advantages that GECA certification delivers on the sales front, in the knowledge that government bodies and large corporations are increasingly insisting on the use of products that contribute to better environmental outcomes.

Antecki encourages all cleaning and cleaning services companies to explore such certification.

“GECA encourages businesses, whether they are small or large, to make good choices for the environment.”

This first appeared in the September/October issue of INCLEAN magazine. Read the original article here.