Call it what it is: Healthy Cleaning

Today’s pandemic awareness is a good time to recognize what “cleaning” can be. And a good model to look at is the triple bottom line of People-Planet-Profit.

While People-Planet-Profit has been around for decades, serving its three pillars is more of a challenge mid-pandemic for the cleaning industry. Wouldn’t this be a good time to rethink how cleaning can be good for everyone (and rename it too)?

Here’s a drive-by look at how the cleaning industry emphasized People-Planet-Profit over the years, acknowledging this 50,000 foot view differs greatly situation to situation.

First, commercial cleaning was understood to only be the removal of visible soil, or “Cleaning for Appearance” — this was the Profit emphasis of cleaning contractors during earlier years (said this was going to be brief).

Then “Green Cleaning” shifted the emphasis to protecting the Planet, (which also protected the health of cleaners from their chemicals).

Jump to 2020 and building occupants became aware of their risks from COVID while indoors. This shifted the emphasis of cleaning from Planet only, to protecting the health of everyone inside buildings. Today cleaning is named “Cleaning for Health,” broadening the People part of the triple bottom line (Yes, the initial People-Planet-Profit included society at large but the pandemic zeroed in on everyone inside buildings).

The pandemic also expanded the Profit emphasis to include two new areas on top of cleaning contractors’ profits: cleaners’ wages, and operating expenditures (OPEX) of building owners and managers.

New Emphasis on Profit includes Cleaners’ Wages

Cleaners’ wages have always been the largest driver of contractors’ profits. But the pandemic has caused worker shortages that have led contractors to pay higher wages.

This pressure on contractors’ profits comes at a time when the cleaning industry is in the midst of a reassessment regarding cleaners’ wages, their work/life balance, and company cultures.

If, and how much of contractors’ higher costs pass through to building owners and managers is still a work in progress.

This means contractors are having to rethink profit expectations in order to fill cleaners’ vacancies, retain good workers, and fulfill contract requirements.

New Emphasis on Profit includes Building Owners & Managers’ OPEX

Cleaners and contractors aren’t the only groups having a rough go of it. The pandemic has also burdened building owners and managers with a confusing and costly need to get people back in their buildings.

Many cleaning contractors may have profited and/or replaced lost revenue with hyper-disinfection services at large profit margins. But building owners and managers now have to make space for this new unbudgeted expectation for healthier indoor spaces while reassuring tenants, employees, and customers it is safe to return.

While building owners and managers struggle to find cost-effective ways to do this, cleaning contractors now have to figure out their share of this new cost-to-service calculation.

This has created a period of adjustment for budgets and profits among building owners, managers, and their contractors.

“Healthy Cleaning” for People-Planet-Profit

Life and work and business move on — no waiting for clarity. For the opportunity to thrive in today’s whitewater, cleaning can benefit by a new, more encompassing name, understanding, and expectation.

“Healthy Cleaning” is that name as it communicates People-Planet-Profit for all stakeholders in the cleaning industry; cleaners, occupants, building owners and managers, and cleaning contractors (not to mention good ole planet Earth).

“Healthy Cleaning” incorporates earlier meanings of cleaning for appearance, green cleaning, and cleaning for health, but adds the health of cleaners’ wages, health of building owners and managers’ OPEX, and contractors’ profits into the mix too.


Now may be the time to rename what cleaning can be and accept and act on the realities cleaning contractors face in our mid and post-pandemic times. Isn’t it time to call it like it is?

(Call it what it is: Healthy Cleaning was first published on LinkedIn).

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