ESG – What Does It All Mean?

Jeff Silver, Head of Sustainability and CSR at DOC Cleaning, reports.

It cannot have escaped anyone’s attention that environmental and social governance (ESG) has moved right up the agenda since COP26. As a nation, we are being asked to look at sustainability in the wider context. How can we limit the impact of global warming, achieve the target of ‘net zero’ by 2050 and, all the while, support people across the globe who need help and advice to make a better life for themselves and their families?

In the cleaning industry we are already playing our part in the campaign, and in a way that reflects our customers’ demands for greener products and for greater commitment to sustainability and social value amongst service providers. In my current role I recently had the pleasure of attending, along with counterparts from other CSSA member companies, an exploratory meeting that is part of a CSSA initiative to improve ESG across the sector. Its aims are to look at ways we can work together to improve green and social credentials, raise the general profile of contractors and their employees, and position the cleaning industry as a place where people who value such commitment will want to work by choice. There is a real appetite across the membership to make it happen.

At DOC we are continually evolving our environmental strategy as part of our ISO14001 certification, trying to understand where we are exposed to climate risks, where we are underexposed to the opportunity of going green, evaluating our carbon impact, and recording our carbon emissions, which we do as part of our Planet Mark accreditation. Like other contractors, we use cleaning products and methods that are safer for both environmental and human health and I do not think we should forget, as an industry, just how important such eco-friendly cleaning systems are in reducing air and water pollution, as well as helping fight ozone depletion. And, of course, there is so much more to do, as whilst there are the emerging technologies of chemical-free cleaning and machines that recycle water, we really need to see much more progress in microfibre to reduce the large amount of plastic particles contained in cloths. There are also the significant benefits to be obtained by embracing the 3-level waste hierarchy of ‘reduce, reuse and recycle’ – in other words reducing the consumption of cleaning products and chemicals, reusing or repurposing items to limit waste and recycling to ensure less energy is spent in new manufacture. And last but not least there is the battle to change people’s entrenched perceptions of paper washroom consumables, altering users’ mindsets to be comfortable with products that do not come in the traditional white colour that people expect!

On the social side it is critical that, as contractors, we operate in ways that benefit society and protect people. Social sustainability means looking at how we treat employees and safeguard their wellbeing. Factors such as local employment, diversity and inclusion are vital, as well as making sure we pay a proper wage. Dare I say it, but tightness in the labour market is gradually nudging customers towards acknowledging that the Real Living Wage is the minimum now acceptable. At DOC we are working with specialist consultancy, JustOne, to map out clear goals and objectives in respect of the communities we impact as a business including, amongst other things, acting in the community by partnering responsibly with relevant charities and projects to ensure that local communities benefit from our company’s presence in the area.

There is no denying that ESG and sustainability have now become essential practice for businesses operating in the cleaning industry. Now is the time to adapt to new sustainable demands to become a greener industry of the future, bringing benefits to our business, customers, employees, and stakeholders.

Published in March issue of Cleaning & Maintenance.