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The Green Agenda

Will this winter’s extreme weather put sustainability centre stage once more? Lee Baker, Media and Policy Manager for the British Cleaning Council, investigated this contentious issue.

Weather mayhem has gripped Britain this winter with frequent storms, gale force winds, torrential rain, and floods – lots and lots of floods. Britain has, of course, had its share of extreme weather in the past, but this time it feels different. This onslaught seems to be occurring with more regularity and much more ferocity than ever before.

The media images of this devastation has galvanised politicians into action, and has also hardened the public’s attitude towards extreme weather occurrences. Polled at the height of the February 2014 floods, over half (51% Opinion/Observer) of those surveyed believed that climate change was to blame, amongst the young 16- 34, it was much higher at 64%.

The latest crisis has brought a public and political will to do something about this, but just as storms blow themselves out and floods recede, will this anger about the current extreme weather actually endure into the spring and beyond, and, more importantly, transcend into real policy? If our legislators fear the wrath of flooded home-county voters which forces them to commit to environmental policies, then the cleaning industry needs to be galvanised and ready to take part in the debate.

As the old saying goes, ‘in every crisis, there is an opportunity’, and if the government, whatever colour it happens to be, decides to re-invest


in The Green Agenda, the cleaning industry has to be there to argue its case – and it has a good case to argue. The cleaning industry has taken sustainability extremely seriously and has made many notable strides. As recent as 2011, a CSSA survey asking cleaning companies their sustainability priorities found that 57% thought of environmental factors as the most important to the industry, with recycling and waste, as well as chemical and energy issues, being a top priority for the industry.

The drive to change the reputation of the cleaning industry has been built on making it as sustainable as possible and on the side of the environment. The trade bodies have continued to espouse The Green Agenda even during the recent years of austerity; the associations have played a huge part in keeping the industry on a sustainable footing with research and writing, the development of new equipment, and their championing of sustainable development in areas such as recycling, lifecycle costing, indoor environmental concerns, and much more besides.

During the years of recession, interest in sustainability may have waned in the media, and to some extent in the public’s consciousness, but not in the cleaning industry. Research carried out by Asset Skills in 2012, designed to establish the

importance of The Green Agenda to facilities management businesses, found that 93% of respondents indicated that significant financial savings would motivate them to become more sustainable in the future, with 77% admitting that economic conditions were having an impact on their ability to work more sustainably. An indication, surely, that more incentives and initiatives from above may be worth lobbying for if the government is serious about the sustainability agenda.

The economic crash and subsequent recession from 2008 onwards, undoubtedly made it more difficult for individual firms to focus on sustainability, even if they wanted to. The political will seemed to have drifted from the issue, but for many in our sector, the future was sustainability, whatever the political weather. The weather chaos we have recently experienced could shape government policy on the environment for many years to come. For the cleaning industry – which has continually flown the green flag – this constitutes a great opportunity to shout loudly about the advances that have been made, and how the challenges of sustainability can be met in the future.

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