Can a bit of Buddhist thinking enlighten our industry? James White of Denis Rawlins Ltd

argues that we do ourselves, our workforce and our customers a disservice if we think of cleaning as a chore.

As a company, we trawl the market at home and abroad – mainly Europe and North America – for the best techniques and kit for cleaning. Our quest has led to new, more effective answers for the everyday challenges faced by cleaning managers and contractors.

These improvements often turn out to be more about innovation than new technology. We can learn a lot from different ideas and new ways of thinking.

But you might be surprised – as I was – to realise that our industry could learn from the, to us, unconventional wisdoms of Japanese Buddhism.

Writing in the Guardian newspaper earlier this year, a Buddhist monk explained the importance of cleaning in his culture. Some of the insights shared by Shoukei Matsumoto (who is based at the Komyoji temple in Tokyo) should resonate with us in the cleaning industry.

Japanese Buddhists believe that to pursue spirituality you must ‘clean, clean, clean’. If that sounds like compulsive cleaning disorder, he counters that mental health counsellors often advise their clients to clean their home environment every day. This is because dirt, squalor and clutter can be symptoms of unhappiness or illness.

Buddhists believe the practice of cleaning in itself is powerful. Matsumoto wrote: “Cleaning practice – by which I mean the routines whereby we sweep, wipe, polish, wash and tidy – is one step on this path towards inner peace.”

We may think ‘inner peace’ is a step too far, but a facilities manager enjoys peace of mind from knowing that washrooms and canteens are hygienically clean for users. A cleaning supervisor can derive personal as

well as job satisfaction from another thorough round of work by the cleaning team.

Japanese Buddhists take this even further as they see no separation between the person and their environment. Rather eloquently, the monk stated: “Cleaning expresses our respect for and sense of wholeness with the world that surrounds us.”

“Both our clients and

customers increasingly expect us to be

responsible in our use of resources – water, cleaning materials, especially chemicals, energy and labour too.”

Again, this is just a more abstract, spiritual way of expressing what we cleaning professionals should profess. Ultimately, any cleaning regime is about maintaining the fabric of the building in best order as well as safeguarding the welfare of its occupants. And both our clients and customers increasingly expect us to be responsible in our use of resources – water, cleaning materials, especially chemicals, energy and labour too.

I firmly believe that these principles – which overlap with Buddhist thought – can enlighten our approach to cleaning.

A real appreciation of the importance of cleaning – in itself and for the customer – can inspire a cleaning

team to commit to and deliver unremittingly high standards. This is not to ignore or belittle the importance of pay and conditions. But I’ve seen this personal commitment in the cleaning operatives shortlisted for the ABCD’s annual Cleaner of the Year awards that we sponsor.

If the public more widely shared this understanding, it would raise the social status of cleaning and cleaners. But employers need to take the lead here. Cleaners should be equipped not just with smart uniforms but the right tools for the job. That’s why we champion ‘No Touch Cleaning’ methods that turn menial work like cleaning toilets into an efficient, hygienic process. In turn, this can help change perceptions about the job of cleaning.

We can make other cleaning tasks less onerous too. Mopping by hand is no longer justifiable on grounds of cost, let alone results. There are low-cost mechanised methods within any cleaning budget that save labour and give a far better return. From escalators to high-level cleaning, we can lighten the burden on the operative and the employer.

Finally, there can be no better way of paying attention to the detail and scrupulous practice of cleaning than measuring the results at a microscopic level. Yes, testing for the adenosine triphosphate markers of bacteria and toxins with an ATP meter is scientific, rather than spiritual. But it underpins that holistic view of cleaning as an essential practice for safeguarding health and ensures it’s effective.

As Matsumoto put it: “Cleaning practice is not a tool, but a purpose in itself”. We need to nurture that sense of purpose. REGULAR | 29

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