“The sustainability space is growing rapidly and is receiving a lot of attention – we’re mindful not to be roped into green washing initiatives or to become busy fools trying to keep up with the Joneses. Any certification worth its weight should be demanding, like B Corp, which is for now, considered the pinnacle eco-certification.”
Georgina Lockwood, sustainability officer at NuServe
While there are many different proprietary standards and accreditation to choose from, B Corp is growing in popularity, with some organisations having to wait up to 10 months to have their application processed and verified.
Fortunately for NuServe, the workplace cleaning company became a B Corp in September 2020, after a rigorous year-long process.
So what is B Corp?
Set up in 2006, the organisation created a robust assessment for companies to protect and improve their positive impact over time. Businesses wishing to become B Corp certified need to demonstrate their commitment to socially and environmentally sustainable business – and reveal in practical terms through company policies and stakeholder engagement how this commitment will be achieved.
The baseline ‘Impact Score’ for accreditation is 80 out 200 points, and needs to be earned by providing evidence of socially and environmentally responsible practices relating to energy supplies, waste and water use, worker compensation, diversity and corporate transparency. Once accreditation is completed, organisations need to re-certify every two to three years to improve their ‘impact score’.
“It is true that we encourage clients to consider different and more sustainable products (FSC certified paper products for example), however, we’ve worked with suppliers to ensure we can offer multiple ranges at various price points, almost always with an option that sits within existing budgets. Indeed, in some cases, we’ve been able to reduce contract costs through changes to the way we work.”
NuServe’s overall impact score is 81.1, compared with the average score of 50.9 for non- B Corp businesses.
“It is true that we encourage clients to consider different and more sustainable products (FSC certified paper products for example), however, we’ve worked with suppliers to ensure we can offer multiple ranges at various price points, almost always with an option that sits within existing budgets."
New sustainability role created
Given the rigour of the process, NuServe appointed a dedicated sustainability officer, Georgina Lockwood, which is an atypical appointment for a business of its size in the industry.
“The sustainability space is growing rapidly and is receiving a lot of attention – we’re mindful not to be roped into green washing initiatives or to become busy fools trying to keep up with the Joneses,” Lockwood says. “Any certification worth its weight should be demanding, like B Corp, which is for now, considered the pinnacle eco-certification.”
NuServe’s managing director, Simon Duke, says there is growing interest from customers in B Corp accreditation. However, a lingering concern is whether having a B Corp as a facilities services partner will drive up costs.
B Corp’s effects on cost of services
“On a few occasions, clients have questioned whether being a B Corp would make us more expensive. There is an understandable, but often incorrect, view that sustainability automatically carries a price premium. We remain competitive in the marketplace and our pricing has been unaffected by our B Corp certification.
To address the cost concern, Duke says to reframe the narrative so that “ethics and cost aren’t at opposite ends of a spectrum”; rather “create ethical solutions that represent excellent value for money”. He adds that achieving this requires compromise from contracting parties and a willingness to innovate.
Labour is the biggest cost in a cleaning contract so reduced hours can help save costs. However, many cleaning organisations make the mistake of simply cutting hours without adjusting the scope of work. “This assumes inherent inefficiency in the way the team were carrying out their duties and, whilst this may be the case, it’s equally possible that their work plan had already been optimised, and that the additional reduction creates an unrealistic or unsustainable demand on the team,” Duke explains.
Nevertheless, NuServe aims to deliver services smarter for its clients, adjusting the scope of work to cut costs to the customer. These changes should also minimise pressure on the team.
"The use of Cobotics is another area that’s growing in maturity, and which offers, in the right environment, a good return on investment."
“A common change, for example, might be the exchange of traditional tub-vacs for backpack vacuum cleaners, which allow teams to move through the same area more quickly. The use of Cobotics is another area that’s growing in maturity, and which offers, in the right environment, a good return on investment. We also frequently reassign tasks to different operatives, such that there is less wasted time between each task. Having a dedicated team vacuum the whole building can be a lot quicker than assigning all tasks within a specific area to one cleaner.”
One of NuServe’s clients – London co-working space, – wanted washrooms to be cleaned every hour. The company calculated it’d take 20 minutes to clean each floor’s washrooms by installing a QR code outside each washroom and having the housekeeping team scan the code when they arrived to clean and when they’d finished the job. The data revealed that the team needed only five minutes per floor at certain times of day. “As a result, we were able to redeploy housekeeping to other tasks – post, meeting room support, catering assistance – which added value to the client, without increasing their cost.
“We’ve recently been talking to partners about a system that would allow clients to deploy sensors and indicator lights to all desks to allow cleaners to see which desks to clean (red light), and which had not been used (green light). This would decrease the time a floor could be cleaned without overburdening the team, and also allow for the dynamic cleaning of desks during the workday in agile working environments. Once a desk had been cleaned, the operative could reset the desk (from red to green light), making it available for re-use on a client’s system.”
Change to NuServe’s teams and operations
- Rolling out the Toucan Dispensing System across many sites – it uses salt and tap water to create a cleaning agent effective against Covid-19, replacing around 90 per cent of other cleaning products’
- Sending account managers on training with NuServe’s chosen preferred waste partner to better advise clients wanting to improve waste and recycling;
- Launching a D&I programme and council, comprising frontline team members and senior managers to devise better support structures;
- Working with Planet Mark to measure the company’s carbon footprint (offset through the World Land Trust);
- Expanding the scope of measuring carbon emissions to achieve net zero by 2030;
- Replacing almost all our combustion engine fleet with electric vehicles in 2021, with plans to be fully electric by 2022; and
- Initiating a programme to protect an acre of rainforest on behalf of all new clients – six acres purchased so far.
Quick sustainable wins for NuServe
- Moved office cleaning hours to the daytime for fewer total cleaning hours and improved working conditions for many team members;
- Procured uniforms for its management team by partnering with Royal Trinity Hospice. The company sourced shirts donated to the charity by a designer brand – keeping the clothes in use, supporting the charity and saving NuServe money and the world raw materials; and
- Encouraging clients to pay cleaning personnel the real Living Wage as a minimum pay rate – ensures a stable and motivated workforce.
Lockwood says that the company must continue to improve to boost its Impact Score for future re-accreditations. “Strictly from an operations perspective for the duration of 2022 we will be focusing on Scope 3 emissions by improving recording frameworks and then implementing reduction procedures. One of the ways we will be doing this is by implementing a Business Travel Hierarchy Plan, which will not only improve our teams’ efficiency but reduce costs and carbon footprint. By ensuring our ops team is working as efficiently as possible, in terms of site orders and visits, we hope to work more effectively and to do so in a carbon sensitive manner.
“Internally, we will be looking at how our business fits into public reporting frameworks like ESGs and SDGS as these structures are understood by business. Since NuServe already has structures in place from our B Corp, Planet Mark and ISO 9001/14001 accreditations we can readily adapt our reports to suit the needs of other reporting models.”
This article comes from an interview with NuServe’s Simon Duke and Georgina Lockwood as part of the ethical business models feature in the January-February 2022 edition of Facilitate.