Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

Life is full of choices. The number of those choices, however, can be overwhelming, which is certainly true when it comes to selecting janitorial and maintenance products and supplies. Evaluating everything from cleaning solutions and mops to vacuum cleaners and towels could make anyone’s head spin. Tactics used by experienced professionals offer opportunities for making product selection and implementation much easier.

The Triple Bottom Line

The economy is on everyone’s mind these days, and economic considerations are part of the “Triple Bottom Line” concept employed by Casey Wick, assistant plant director of custodial services at Hamilton College in Clinton, NY. “We consider three key factors when evaluating and selecting products,” he said. “We analyze economics relative to cost and performance, social in terms of manufacturers and suppliers, and environmental considerations related to safety and environmental impacts.”

The concept used by Wick and his associates, who are responsible for maintaining and cleaning Hamilton’s 100 buildings, means that an entire product line is more critical in nearly all instances as opposed to any one single product. The College’s operation is not stocked with multiple lines from varying manufacturers. “We believe that for every deviation from a single-source supplier that there is an inverse relationship that impacts social and environmental factors,” said Wick. “For example, purchasing products from multiple vendors means that multiple deliveries are required, which results in greater environmental impacts. Using the ‘Triple Bottom Line’ as a guide serves us well.”

Officials at Hamilton usually review all existing products during annual contract renewals. New products are typically considered when they are introduced by a vendor with whom Wick or others have an established relationship. The introduction of a new product often occurs when a supplier foresees the future discontinuation of a product that is currently being used or when sustainable substitutes become available.

“We initially review the manufacturer’s documentation, including the Material Safety Data Sheets, to see how the product fits with our standards,” said Wick. “Field testing is then done and consists of closely monitoring applications according to the manufacturer’s recommendations and the operating demands of individual facilities. The final step is to solicit performance evaluations from users, line supervisors, and facility occupants.”

Wick notes that switching to a new product may be met with some resistance, even if it meets all requirements. He said that consistently reinforcing a new product’s benefits, coupled with appropriate staff training in the product’s use, helps to achieve a successful transition.

Making the Switch to Green
Michael Steger is director, Physical Plant Services, for National Management Resources Corp. (NMR) at Palm Beach Atlantic University, FL. Like Wick, he uses the key measures of product quality, cost, and materials, which include an environmental focus, when evaluating products and supplies.

“We typically replace a line every three years,” said Steger. “Sometimes we replace one product at a time, but it is more likely to involve a major switch. It is important that all our products work together to maximize the benefits to our staff and to building occupants.”

Steger has been in the business for 20 years, and he acknowledges that he has not seen it all. He and others in his department continually talk with vendors and their peers to discuss new products and supplies.

One major switch in recent years involves the availability and use of green products. Steger said that the excuse for not switching to the use of green products is feeble, noting that all major manufacturers provide good sustainable lines, that prices are down, and that the benefits associated with these products have increased.

Raul Suarez is housekeeping manager for NMR at the University, and he works closely with Steger to both evaluate and to implement the use of new products and supplies. He agrees with Steger that using green products should be done whenever possible, but acknowledges that making the switch sometimes requires some selling. “There is still a misconception that green products don’t work as well as harsh cleaners,” he said.

He states that this belief has been true among the janitorial staff, especially those who have been accustomed to using the same products, some of which were not environmentally friendly, for a long time. To combat this perception, he involves the staff in the evaluation process and listens to their comments. His approach helps to make any switch successful.

The janitorial and maintenance staff has come to appreciate the benefits that have been achieved as the switch has been made to using an increasing number of green products. Storage requirements are down, and the use of a machine to mix concentrate with water ensures better portion control.

Suarez notes that certain green products offer additional benefits for the staff other than the obvious environmental pluses. “In the past two years, we switched to microfiber cleaning. We now use mops that are thinner, flatter, and that use less water. Equally important, they weigh considerably less than the 10- to 15-lb. weight of a traditional mop when it is wet. The ergonomics for our staff are much better.”

The challenges associated with testing, evaluating, purchasing, and implementing the use of new products are also opportunities, according to Suarez. “The testing and evaluation that we undertake is worth the investment if we can identify products that offer better economic and environmental benefits while also improving efficiency for our personnel. Our staff is very good at what they do, and giving them the best tools for the job is part of that success.”