Tackling environmental impacts

Strategies for environmental sustainability include smarter purchasing of chemicals, equipment and materials and the implementation of effective waste management.

The ISO 14001 defines an environmental impact as any “change to the environment whether adverse or beneficial, wholly or partially resulting from an organisations environmental aspects”.

Further to this definition, an environmental aspect is defined by the standard as any “element of an organisations activities or products or services that interacts or can interact with the environment”.

The standard then defines environment as “surroundings in which an organisation operates, including air, water, land, natural resources, flora, fauna, humans and their relationships”.

The relationship between environmental aspects and impacts is basically a cause and effect one. Some general examples of environmental aspects include noise, emissions and discharges.

Within the cleaning industry this may include for example, consumption of water, generation of noise and storage of chemicals.

An environmental impact refers to the change that occurs within the environment as a result of the aspect. These may include consumption of natural resources, disturbance to the surrounding environment with risk to health or contamination of air, water and soil.

Take the simple example of washing a truck. The environmental aspects are the use of water and the cleaning agent in the waste water. The impact is the potential water pollution and the impact to natural resources.


Sample aspects and impacts register

Activity Aspect Impact
Diluting chemicals Consumption of water Consumption of natural resources
Outside blowing Generation of noise Disturbance to the surrounding environment
Storage of chemicals Stored chemicals potential for leakage or spill Risk to health and contamination of air, water and soil
Washing a truck Cleaning agent in waste water.

Consumption of water

Potential water pollution

Consumption of natural resources


Case study

Sometimes the best way to develop an environmental sustainability strategy is to look at what some of the world’s biggest companies are doing to reduce their carbon footprint.

On a recent visit to Waste Expo in the US, I was fascinated by what Mars, Incorporated is doing in this area, and how some of its innovations could one day be applied to the cleaning industry.

Mars, Incorporated is a leading American global manufacturer of confectionery, pet food, and other food products, and is enhancing its profits by tailoring its operations for the good of the planet.

It also has ambitious carbon reduction targets. Mars aimed to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 25 per cent over two years (2015-2017) which it successfully achieved.

A 25 per cent reduction may seem like an unreachable target for a cleaning organisation – but it is good to know other companies have successfully accomplished it.

Mars partnered with the Sumitomo Corporation of America to open a wind farm in Texas. The windfarm is spread over an area the size of Paris and generates 100 per cent of the electricity demands for its operations in the US – the equivalent energy to power the production of 13 billion snickers bars.

In this example, partnering with another organisation was a wise choice and something that could be considered within the cleaning industry to achieve any high set target.

Mars also partnered with Eneco in the UK to open a windfarm in Scotland. This windfarm generates enough power to operate Mars’ entire UK operation. Wind energy is not the only renewable source Mars is involved in.

In Nevada, the business installed a 4.4 acre solar garden that supports 100 per cent of the energy needed to power their local site on sunny days which reduces greenhouse emissions by 867 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year.

Mars is making a global effort to improve the efficiency of its factories throughout the world. At Mars Drinks in England, activities such as turning off lights in unoccupied areas saves 52,000 kilowatt hours annually.

At its subsidiary, Wrigley, in India around 25,000 kilowatt hours are saved each year by installing temperature and motion sensitive air conditioning and lighting.

Essentially, Mars is in the process of replacing the old with the new. Maybe approaches like this can occur in cleaning organisation’s head offices and may become suggestions for clients to improve their environmental outcomes.

Mars is also looking to save water in countries that have a shortage of water such as the Middle-East and parts of Australia. Hence, it is exploring ways in which warm water can be used to reheat something via closed loop recycling – rather than letting the warm water flow out to the factory.

Water recycling is something the cleaning industry can embrace by considering water reduction strategies available in the market. Other companies could take similar approaches to Mars in terms of using renewable energy strategies to improve efficiency.

For Mars the journey is surely just beginning, and it will be interesting to follow the company over the years to see what innovations it implements and envision how these environmental innovations could be applied to the cleaning industry.

A big difference between Mars and the cleaning industry is that Mars produces products whilst the cleaning industry provides a service.

It is important to note, however, that the cleaning industry can further contribute to environmental sustainability by sourcing environmentally friendly cleaning chemicals, materials and equipment.

Information sources such as this publication and social networking platform, LinkedIn introduce some fantastic environmentally sustainable cleaning innovations that may be trialled and implemented.

In conclusion, sustainability measures where implemented well in the industry can improve a building’s health, in addition to the cleaning business.

Strategies for environmental sustainability can include smarter purchasing of chemicals, equipment and materials and the implementation of effective and efficient waste management strategies.

Communication, consultation and training are also key factors in ensuring the cleaning organisation’s environmental policy and procedures are well understood and complied with.

Dr Denis Boulais is national risk manager at Broadlex Services

This first appeared in the September/October issue of INCLEAN Magazine 

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