Green Means Green

Businesses lean on green cleaning practices to improve bottom line

By Sarah Baker

As national real estate guru Jonathan David Miller said at last week’s Urban Land Institute’s Real Estate Outlook for the Mid-South, in the rare event that new construction is taking place for office users, going green is standard in today’s economy.

Margaret Wheeler of ServiceMaster by Stratos uses an environmentally friendly backpack vacuum. The company says the majority of its clients are using green cleaning products. 
(Photo: Lance Murphey)

“Tenants are looking,” said Miller, the co-author of Emerging Trends report. “It’s not about being a tree hugger, it’s about building sustainable designs.”

Forecasters like Miller say construction will be slow at best in 2012. And thawing lease-signing activity translates into “corporate office occupiers forcing more productivity out of every square foot,” and “more equals less,” said Kemp Conrad, principal with Cushman & Wakefield/Commercial Advisors LLC.

The same is ringing true for local janitorial firms. ServiceMaster by Stratos – the Memphis-based cleaning company behind the Memphis Cook Convention Center and FedExForum – is seeing an uptick in “green cleaning” demand in office and industrial users.

“In the past, it was always like, ‘Well, if you put a little bit of cleaner on it, then a lot more will do even better,’” said Stacy McCall, Stratos president and CEO. “But it’s just the opposite in green cleaning. You tried to reduce the amount of product you use, therefore you’re reducing what is left on a surface of a desk or countertop. When it’s rinsed off, it’s that much less that’s going into the environmental waste stream, which is always a positive thing.”

Some aspects of green cleaning include using products with no volatile organic compounds, which have been known to aggravate health problems such as asthma, McCall said. Others include using products that leave less detergent residue, which can keep carpets and fabrics cleaner for longer periods of time and require less maintenance.

These processes not only improve indoor air quality, but the packaging the products come in themselves are smaller than the ready-to-use type of quantities that you see out in the marketplace, McCall said.

“If a company is making those green purchases, they are also trying to partner with those that are creating recycled content containers and products,” she said. “You find more that are bio-based, or that are produced energy-efficient. You’re sort of watching the whole life cycle of a product, from the start of the product to its use and then when it goes back into the environment.”

Margaret Wheeler cleans the Downtown office at ServiceMaster by Stratos using an environmentally friendly vacuum.
(Photo: Lance Murphey)

But green cleaning’s reach extends far beyond having a positive effect on the environment, McCall said. Current green cleaning clients of Stratos – like Wolfchase Toyota and Nuvasive – have noticed green cleaning as a catalyst for healthier employees, lower operating costs and even in some cases, businesses gaining access to government financial incentives along with positive environmental impacts.

By using Stratos, McCall said, clients may not see “a tremendous drop in their bottom line,” but janitorial workers will be controlling their water consumption while in a client’s facility, thus controlling electrical use by being more efficient.

“Whether it’s their HVAC system because it’s not having a heavier load because we’re reducing their particulate count, we’re able to hold our costs down and not have to pass it along to our customer on the janitorial side of the business,” McCall said. “We can become more efficient so that we’re not increasing at least line item for them.”

Jonathan Hackmeyer, vice president of business development at Sterling Building Specialists Inc. – the firm responsible for preparing furniture boutique APG Office Furnishings for its recent ribbon cutting off South Main Street – said it’s difficult to tie green cleaning with return on investment simply because it’s just so expensive to implement.

“It’s not something that’s going to bring any sort of return, other than tenants looking for that type of cleaning practices,” Hackmeyer said, adding that some of the more basic procedures currently being used by Sterling’s customers are “Green Seal” cleaning chemicals and paper products.

While these practices may have a hefty price tag upfront, they help customers obtain various LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certifications, Hackmeyer said, which ultimately trickles down to increased employee efficiency, thus strengthening any businesses’ bottom line.

“It is our goal to help our customers promote safety, minimize exposure, residue, waste and pollutants,” Hackmeyer said. “Implementation of these practices will contribute to the health and success of your business.”