How to reduce resistance to green cleaning

by FM Media
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Fresh Green Clean’s BRIDGET GARDNER uncovers how ISS achieved staff support for green cleaning.

“A good worker is invisible. They are usually only noticed if they have made a mistake or have forgotten to do something,” notes Duane Hawkins, general manager of operations of the New South Wales Government cleaning division of ISS Facility Services. He is discussing an unexpected opportunity he has found to recognise and reward the quiet achievers of a workforce that are rarely celebrated – the cleaning staff.

This case study focuses on how training, provided by ISS school-based cleaning staff to support the process of change from traditional chemicals to certified ‘green’ brands and microfibre technology, has provided far more than new skills and knowledge.
Gaining an awareness of how their actions could benefit the environment, the health of students and themselves lifted their own perceived value. This has had a positive spin-off effect on staff morale and their willingness to adopt the new cleaning regime.
Hawkins describes the decision to formally train team leaders in green cleaning as “a natural fit with our philosophy of always looking for more sustainable and safer ways of working, by taking the time to improve skill levels”. What he says he didn’t anticipate was that trainees would return to their worksites so fired up by what they had learned that their co-workers would all ask to be trained as well.
This story stands in sharp contrast to the typical scenario of a company introducing green cleaning products with only a cursory demonstration, then being surprised by the poor results, complaints, refusal to use them or even workers secretly bringing their own products because ‘the green products didn’t work’.

Training was delivered by ISS-employed trainers in partnership with Lennox Institute, which provided the materials and trainer training. The session is part of a suite of three nationally accredited units by the Lennox Institute branded as greenRclean, each aimed at a different organisational role. These are:

  1. CPOCMN3001A: Participate in environmentally sustainable work practices (Cleaning)
  2. CPPCMN4002A: Implement and monitor environmentally sustainable work practices (Management)
  3. CPOCMN4001A: Develop workplace policies and procedures for sustainability (Development)

The program was developed to be consistent with the industry’s much broader understanding of green cleaning than the official competency scope of environmental sustainability, by incorporating worker and occupant health and safety, and effective methodologies.
For ISS, this equated to real benefits in terms of the capacity to reduce risk and worker compensation. For New South Wales’ schools, this results in a cleaning workforce that understands and is committed to the principles of sustainability and to protecting the health of the students.
However, it has been the additional focus on the effective use of milder green products and chemical-free technologies while still achieving a high standard of hygiene that has ensured the successful outcome.

Introducing sustainable change into a workplace is always a challenge, and cleaning is no different. Most cleaners take pride in the skills they develop, such as the speed in which they complete tasks, and will attach this to a specific method or product, or even fragrance. Upsetting this comfort zone is bound to meet with resistance, especially when the behaviour has been entrenched over many years.
ISS trainer, Toni Marks relates that trainees often entered the training session with a negative attitude toward having to attend and to green cleaning in general. She describes the three components that help to turn this resistance around as:

  1. Commencing the training by focusing on the trainees’ own wellbeing facilitated their buy-in by sending a clear message that the company valued them and were willing to invest in them.
  2. The extent of the health and environmental concerns, plus the large number of solutions available to address them, can appear overwhelming. Explaining that green cleaning is not a list of regulations, but rather a range of options from which to choose according to their relevance to each work situation, reassured trainees and allowed them to explore options with an open mind.
  3. Engaging trainees in hands-on demonstrations of more effective ways of using greener cleaning products – this was possibly the most important key to overcoming barriers to change.

Marks goes on to explain, “When we took the time to show them how to use the cloths properly and to explain what happens when they tip chemicals down the stormwater drain and the potential health effects linked to their old products, they felt valued and empowered to take what they had learned back to their workplace.”

Worksite audits carried out before and after the training was delivered showed measurable improvements across all sites. ISS area managers have also documented resource savings that resulted from a range of practical worksite projects they carried out as part of the management training unit. This includes significant reductions in packaging waste and chemicals, and energy via the improved efficiency of vacuum cleaners.

Bridget Gardner is the director of Fresh Green Clean, an independent consultancy in sustainable cleaning practices for the facilities cleaning and management sectors.

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