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Going ‘green’ creates a sustainable business model for Lincoln’s ServiceMaster Professional Building Maintenance

The young girl watched in alarm as the screen in her fourth-grade class flashed images of landfills, dumps and mounds of garbage, pictures of a trash-choked environment which would haunt her to this day.

“That’s where it all started,” said Angela Paolini.  “The waste we create, and where we’re going to put it, the projection of what we’ll create in the future.  That’s what drove me to what we do now.”

Paolini, along with her husband, Jon, bought ServiceMaster Professional Building Maintenance (PBM) in 2009, a 170-employee, Lincoln-based franchise dedicated to sustainable cleaning services not just to contribute to healthier environment, but because it makes sense on the balance sheet.  Workers don’t use featherdusters for those hard to reach corners; instead, they wear lightweight vacuums with high-filtration bags on their hips to capture dust, using long pole attachments to help reduce back pain and injuries.  Even the vacuuming patterns on the carpets they make are designed to be ergonomic and efficient.  Moreover, the company eschews prolonged exposure of their employees to harsh chemicals such as ammonia in favor of “green,” natural products with low or no hazardous ingredients.  Green products cost more, but:

“The system, products, processes and equipment we use save us time, at least five to 10 percent in the long run,” Jon Paolini said.  “That savings enables us to offer green cleaning services for the same cost as traditional cleaning.”

Saving money by saving the environment

The company claims a typical competitor using off-the-shelf general purpose cleaning products dumps more than 12 tons of harmful chemicals into the environment every year. Using their company-developed green cleaning products, ServiceMaster PBM releases only around one percent of that amount.  Out of nearly 25,000 gallons of floor cleaner used by the company every year, less than a gallon of hazardous ingredients is released into the environment. 

Then there’s the 8,200 gallons of restroom cleaner they use over the same period, not a drop of which is harmful to the environment.

Passing on the cost-savings to go green is important, Angela said, considering 60 to 70 percent of ServiceMaster PBM’s customers are small businesses; on the other hand, one big customer is Union Bank & Trust, a cleaning contract the company has had for 20 years this year.  Their devotion to saving resources, both “green” and green has helped to grow the business from $2.5 million in revenues in 2011 to $3.1 million in 2012.

Getting help from NBDC to be a leader in going 'green'

Jon worked for ServiceMaster PBM for 15 years, earning a promotion to general manager before he and Angela visited the Nebraska Business Development Center for help with a business transition plan, and relied on NBDC’s help with their SBA loan application to buy the business; they were approved for a 7(a) loan through Union Bank in July 2009.  In 2013, the franchise was named NBDC’s Business of the Year in the Energy and the Environment category.

Upon taking over the franchise, Angela, who often rides her bike to work, started a company-wide recycling program: they reuse cardboard boxes to move products to work sites, donated five-gallon buckets to area churches, and offered old washers and dryers to school fundraisers.

“Our vision is to be a leader in environmentally-friendly cleaning practices,” Angela said.  “We saw the trend in the industry, and we wanted to be the first in the area to be third-party certified as a green business,” something the franchise notched with their certification of GS-42 in 2009 by Green Seal, the state’s first such cleaning company to achieve such recognition.

This honor, from an independent non-profit with decades of experience evaluating green businesses, recognizes companies such as ServiceMaster PBM for its work to reduce toxic pollution and waste, to conserve resources, and to increase the health and well-being of its customers, particularly those most affected by its product choice, such as school children, service staff, and the elderly. 

As a result, ServiceMaster PBM can say its environmentally-responsible products and services meets or exceeds Green Seal performance and quality expectations; they can use the recognition to market to ecologically-aware customers and high-value niche markets, increasing its customer loyalty, and its place in the community.

Even their employee picnic this past summer was a zero-waste event complete with compostable cups, plates and utensils.

“I have a personal belief, a passion to be a good steward, not to be wasteful,” said Angela, who while serving with AmeriCorps, created a recycling club in a Lincoln elementary school.  “I want to do all I can to reduce our carbon footprint.”