Cleaning for the future: what’s next for our industry?

Monday, February 3, 2020

Alastair Scott, sales director at Robert Scott, discusses the results of the company’s latest customer research looking at the future of the cleaning industry - the challenges, the opportunities - and what businesses would like to see in this new decade.

The start of a new decade gives us all a chance to reflect, take stock and interrogate our business proposition and what we are delivering to our customers.

With so much change, from environmental factors to increasing customer demand for new and innovative products, competitive pricing and speedy delivery - it’s easy to lose sight of what’s important. We asked people across the cleaning industry what matters most to their business and their customers and what changes they’d like to see in our industry.

One thing was abundantly clear from our research – sustainability is top of the agenda. Over 80% (83.64%) of respondents told us they’re looking for more sustainable cleaning products using recycled materials, less packaging and more non-chemical alternatives. More than half (52%) also told us that they think their customers care a lot about sustainability.

As we look to the next 10 years, 3 in 10 people would like to see more innovation in the end-of-life options for products, which means we need to find more ways of making products recyclable or using recycled materials in the manufacturing process to reduce what goes to landfill. This is something we’ve been able to do with our recycled spray bottles – which is also one of the first products in the UK to carry the Government’s new Plastic Recycled Rating mark.

While more businesses are moving towards sustainable options, there are still barriers we need to address. 78% of those surveyed felt that cost is our industry’s biggest barrier to sustainability, while 34% said they felt perceived effectiveness - i.e. without chemical cleaning agents they don’t work - to be the second biggest barrier.

This shows us that there is a huge opportunity to work with companies and their end users to better inform and educate in a number of areas. In the development of new product technology, we can show how innovation in design and materials means that we no longer require harmful chemicals to clean effectively.

When it comes to cost, we need to address the true value of more sustainable products. Yes, microfibre cloths might be a little more expensive, for example, but they’re robust and reusable which means they last longer and can be used without cleaning chemicals allowing customers to make cost savings elsewhere.

Looking to the future, we wanted to know where people felt there was the greatest opportunity to improve sustainability across the industry. Interestingly, the results showed us three areas - design (30.91%), production (29.09%) and end-of-life options (29.09%).

This shows us we need to be thinking more considerately from the start of a product’s life cycle. In the design stage, it’s about how we can incorporate more eco-compliant materials or utilise the latest technology to ensure new products we create are more sustainable. In production, we need to create efficiencies to reduce our energy consumption and any waste product. Or think strategically about how we can use the waste product.

For example, our floor and dish cloths are now manufactured using recycled shredded clothing, which means we are diverting textile waste from landfill and giving it another use. The cotton used in the mop heads is sourced from waste produced during the spinning process, again giving use for a material that would otherwise be disposed of.

When it comes to end-of-life, if we’re being more responsible about the products we’re creating from the start, this will feed through the product life cycle and allow end users to reduce the number of products they require, reuse products where possible and offer more options to recycle at the end-of-life.

As a business, we know there’s not an overnight quick fix. But with almost 100 years of experience, we’ve seen how fast the world around us is changing and we need to continue to develop and innovate, as well as taking responsibility to lessen our impact on the world around us.

Robert Scott will be attending the Manchester Cleaning Show, showcasing its bio-cleaning range, Toucan Eco. The chemical-free disinfectant and cleaning solution removes the need for up to 80 per cent of chemical cleaning products while significantly reducing single-use plastic bottles and cutting cost for customers.