I recently sat in on a GreenBiz.com webcast on sustainability and its role in workplace hygiene policies. Here are some of the insights I gained from moderator Matthew Wheeland, the managing director of GreenBiz Group; Josh Radoff, co-founder and principal at YRG sustainability; and Michael Kapalko, the sustainability marketing manager at SCA Tissue North America. The data below is based on their presentation of Harris online surveys commissioned by SCA.
Green purchasing is a real consumer phenomenon, and on-site hygiene is an area where companies have a golden opportunity to improve sustainability practices and win over customers, said experts at a recent GreenBiz.com webcast. For restaurants, especially, having a clear, communicable plan for sustainable hygiene is essential given that customers will directly interact with — and judge — the restrooms.
The Harris surveys found that most people are buying products because of their green or environmental qualities, and they’re doing so with purpose: 57% of respondents make these purchases to benefit the environment, and 86% of consumers are equally (56%) or more (30%) likely to patronize a green business over others.
Reciprocation on the green front is something that businesses don’t have to be afraid of, according to the respondents. Roughly that same six-in-10 percentage also “notice green efforts around them” and “appreciate companies sharing practices.”
Hygiene’s reverberation through operations
Addressing hygiene in your restroom procuring and management practices requires a dedicated approach that includes suppliers, internal and external company communication and chemical choices.
“[T]he whole point of this webinar and the research was: It really does all boil down to the restroom. The restroom itself is good for business — whether it’s your image, user satisfaction — it’s at least not keeping people away. It’s a reflection and almost a testing ground of your overall sustainability approach,” Kapalko said.
Some of the tips and benefits that the webcast offered:
- It doesn’t matter who you are. Restaurants are an obvious example, but schools and businesses still have people come through their restrooms. And some sites that receive federal dollars might have to bolster their green efforts to keep their funding.
- Communicate. All the sustainability plans in the world don’t matter if your staff, contractors and suppliers aren’t aware of them and on board. Create a workplace environment that shows the company is committed. Signage in restrooms is often confusing to customers and employees alike so clear, positive communication is essential here.
- Don’t pretend illness isn’t there. Most companies lack illness-preparedness plans or hand-hygiene programs.
- Look at everything and find the low-hanging fruit. Restroom areas that can be improved include: lighting, for quality and for mercury content; water use in older urinals and toilets; water efficiency in faucets; and recycling or composting of paper towels. “Most of what we’re talking about here are, essentially, no-cost items; maybe there’s a couple of low-cost type of items. A lot of it falls into sort of implementing good management strategies,” Radoff says.
- Look to green chemicals. Find certified products to avoid the effort of verification, Radoff notes, though companies will need to balance sustainability with having the right chemicals to do the job.
- Find help. Find online resources from the government or other entities that offer standards and guidelines, advice and even grant money to facilitate these changes.
Where restaurants can win with green
People who have to wait for a table will often choose a speedier restaurant. But the Harris surveys found that having a recognized social/environmental focus can win over customers even when the wait is long.
This advantage is among a subset of consumers, as only 53% chose the “social/environmental focus” restaurant over a regular restaurant when table wait wasn’t a factor. But, among that group, 22% would stick with the green restaurant even if it took longer. Kapalko noted that organic food and other considerations might factor into these consumers’ choices.
Image via iStockphoto