Can We Do More to Save Energy?

If one phrase has been used more than any other during the last six months, it must be ‘spiralling energy costs. Energy costs are not just a domestic problem, they apply to businesses too.

Many companies will go under this Autumn and Winter because of crippling fuels bills and yet, for once, you could say that this is a crisis not affecting contract cleaning as badly as others. Most contractors do not have huge premises to heat, and we do not burn fuel to manufacture anything. You could argue that the main area we are suffering is probably in vehicle fuel costs and, even there, many of us are switching our fleets to hybrid or electric vehicles as part of our wider drive for sustainability.

Yet, there are two significant areas where our industry does intersect in a major way with the energy crisis. The first is the increasing cost of travel faced by our front-line staff in getting to their place of work. In areas that benefit from good public transport provision, that cost has not risen hugely, but in many other places public transport is either poor or does not run frequently at the times when our staff work, meaning that they are driving to work and are therefore affected directly by rising fuel costs. The Living Wage Foundation has always factored travel costs into its annual increases for the Real Living Wage and, as I sit here writing this column in late August, I await with interest the announcement of the 2022-23 Real Living Wage, due at the end of September, to see the extent to which those staff who receive it will benefit from the new rates.

The second, closely related area is the general impact on carbon emissions resulting from our huge front-line workforce commuting to their place of work. This is a more difficult challenge to address. In one way, it is not strictly ‘our’ problem. But of course, in reality, it is everyone’s problem and, as anyone knows who is engaged on a carbon reduction strategy, the emissions from staff commuting are a major contributor to the Scope 3 Emissions footprint and actually form the largest part, by far, of a cleaning contractor’s overall carbon footprint.

What can we do to reduce the impact of our operations in this area? Not an easy one to answer, I hear you say. We can work with clients to encourage more daytime cleaning, meaning longer shifts and a reduction in the need for staff travelling between part-time jobs. We can encourage staff to walk and cycle to work. The one thing we cannot do, of course, is encourage them to work from home!

Other changes are harder to influence. We can offer support for the swifter introduction of greener public transport such as hydrogen buses. We can lobby, as the APPG is doing, for cleaning staff to be re-classified as key workers, a shift that would give them access to subsidised housing closer to the centre of cities and towns. All in all, however, those are long term ambitions and are not going to solve the immediate crisis and its effect on our economy. We may have to leave that to the new Prime Minister.

Published in October issue of Cleaning & Maintenance.