A few years ago, an evolution took place in the professional cleaning industry. After years and years of talking about “green” cleaning, with many believing it to be just a fad, the cleaning industry finally took the leap. Now, it seems like every major cleaning chemical company-along with many equipment manufacturers-have introduced products that are healthier for the user and building occupants while having a reduced impact on the environment.
However, for the professional carpet-cleaning industry, the rush to “go green” has been slower and more sporadic. “We see it more with building service contractors than with carpet cleaners,” says Dave Howard, director of sales and marketing for Jon-Don, an educational resource and distributor for the carpet-cleaning industry. “Many facilities, especially government facilities, now require the use of green cleaning products, whereas in the residential market, the demand and growth of green carpet cleaning has been considerably slower.”
This may change rather dramatically in the next few years. According to Howard, customers in both residential and commercial settings will soon have, what can be termed “green expectations.” These expectations will be similar, he says, to the public’s confidence that there is no lead paint in toys sold in the U.S. In other words, customers will simply expect the cleaning chemicals and equipment used to clean their carpets to be environmentally responsible.
Overcoming Some Hurdles
Although many experts agree with Howard that the future is indeed green, it appears there will be some hurdles to overcome in the carpet-cleaning industry. One issue to address is the belief among many technicians that green carpet cleaning chemicals are more costly than conventional products and may not perform as well. “Green cleaning chemicals will not save you money, but the added cost is negligible,” Howard said. “And, with the chemistry used today, many chemicals are as effective as their conventional counterparts.”
Identifying and verifying environmentally preferable cleaning products may be an even bigger concern for technicians. Currently, there are at least five different “certifying” organizations testing carpet-cleaning chemicals to meet certain green standards and criteria.
The problem is that the criteria and standards are not always all the same from one organization to the next. Further, some certifying organizations are changing their criteria rather quickly, so what is green today may not be green tomorrow. Even more perplexing, some manufacturers have developed their own standards and are “self-declaring” certain products green.
“If the ‘tech’ is going to market themselves as a green carpet cleaner, they’ve got to make sure the products they use are undeniably green,” Howard said. “Right now, there is a lot of confusion, and this has hindered the transfer to environmentally preferable products in the carpet cleaning industry.”
What Else is Green?
It should be understood that simply replacing conventional carpet-cleaning chemicals with green equivalents will not necessarily turn a technician green. Many experts say there must be a “total package” approach to green cleaning, including carpet cleaning.
According to Steve Williams, senior vice president of research development for U.S. Products, a manufacturer of professional portable carpet, floor, and restoration equipment, using an antiquated extractor can almost defeat the purpose. He suggests that technicians purchasing new equipment select low-moisture extractors, which use considerably less water than older machines. Buyers should also be sure that the equipment has adequate moisture recovery and uses minimal power and energy.
“This would be an example of a highly efficient extractor,” he says. “Although it does require more [initial] power, if the unit also heats the water/solution, it improves the effectiveness of the cleaning chemicals to such an extent that, overall, the job gets done faster using less energy.”
Williams also says that water will likely become a bigger concern in the U.S. and that carpet technicians will be expected to use water more responsibly; the U.S. General Accounting Office predicts that as many as 36 states will experience some type of water shortage by 2013.
Since pollution is an issue as well, many truckmount manufacturers have been taking steps to reduce the emissions released from their machines. One manufacturer’s clutch-drive system uses the vehicle’s motor as the power source. Because of the vehicle’s catalytic converter and fuel injection system, the fuel burns more efficiently and the catalytic converter effectively cleans-up emissions.
PR and Marketing Value
There are many reasons cleaning contractors, including carpet cleaners, are transferring to green cleaning. Many who clean government facilities are required to make the switch, as mentioned earlier. Some have gone green because they simply believe it is the “right thing” to do. However, many others realize the marketing potential of offering green carpet cleaning and using it to win new contracts.
Some of the most successful technicians take the time to educate customers on the benefits of green carpet cleaning, according to Jon-Don’s Howard. For example, Jon-Don offers classes dealing specifically with green carpet cleaning so that technicians better understand what it entails.
“Typically, the customer does not know anything about green carpet cleaning,” Howard says. “By [the technician] explaining its benefits, it not only can win new clients, but also increases the professionalism of the technician.”
However, Howard says, the marketing potential of green carpet cleaning will only last a few more years, suggesting that those who adopt it now will be ahead of their competitors. “Part of the ‘total package’ approach of green carpet cleaning,” he said. “Is that end customers will not only want environmentally preferable products used to clean their rugs, but they will want the companies they work with to be green as well.”