BY ANDREA SIEDSMA
Going “green” has been all the rage this year in corporate America as businesses across the nation have begun to think about how being environmentally friendly can improve productivity, health and profits.
It’s no secret that having a healthy office building reduces the chances of employees being sick, therefore elevating productivity and reducing lost work time. The growing trend of being kind to Earth has fueled new industries such as clean technology and even green-cleaning products and services. One small company that is banking on the increasing awareness to be green is San Diego-based Pure Cleaning Services, a one-woman operation that offers all-natural cleaning products and services to businesses, private homes and even houseboats.
The founder is 27-year-old Elizabeth Bates, who began her green-cleaning crusade after a summer stint as a housekeeper in Germany.
“Every day I had headaches, my skin was dry and itchy and I was getting sick more often,” Bates recalled. “I didn’t know the cause of all of that so when I came back home to the United States I started researching information about the toxic nature of household cleaning products. I began making my own cleaning supplies using lemon juice and vinegar.”
For Bates, using all-natural cleaning products began as a health and environmental concern. Through further research she discovered that the market in San Diego for natural and nontoxic cleaning products and services was untapped. That’s when she met Noelle Morris, founder of Environmental Products for Important Causes Inc., a San Diego company that makes and sells all-natural cleaning products.
“We started working together towards a common goal of promoting health and environmental education by fostering consumer decisions about alternatives to mainstream cleaners and cleaning services,” Bates said.
2006 Official Launch
Pure Cleaning Services, which was officially launched in September 2006, uses predominantly EPIC products. One of Pure’s services includes properly disposing of mainstream cleaners and replacing them with EPIC cleaners. (Bates mentions that contrary to popular belief, local wastewater treatment facilities are not equipped to filter out chemical pollution from common household products.)
Her firm also offers an all-natural steam cleaning service using a vacuum-like machine that operates based on the same technology used in espresso machines.
The machine produces vapor heated to more than 290 degrees, which then cleans and deodorizes while killing bacteria, dust mites and other allergens.
Through a partnership with I.C.E. Spa in Kensington, Pure offers a discounted cleaning/spa package to high-end clients. Bates plans to create similar partnerships.
“I want to focus on more customer-oriented business where you think out of the box and offer things that have never been offered before, such as spa packages,” said Bates, who holds a marketing and business management degree from Loyola University in New Orleans. “It’s fun to think of ways you can work together with other small businesses to create solutions and services that are beneficial to your clients and to your company.”
Pure charges about $5 to $10 more an hour than traditional cleaning companies. The company charges about $32 an hour with a minimum of two hours of cleaning.
Clients who use Pure on a regular weekly basis pay $26 an hour; the company charges $28 an hour for bi-weekly cleaning and $30 an hour for monthly jobs. Bates justifies the higher costs of her services to the higher cost of the cleaning products.
“The cost to the consumer is a little higher, but the people who are coming to me for my services can really see the value,” Bates said.
“They have decided that it’s worth having the extra cost to protect their health and the environment.”
Until recently, Bates, a former biotech marketing professional, has been running Pure by herself, working in the evenings and the weekends. She expects to hire a couple of employees by the end of the year.
Bates initially financed the firm using a $10,000 inheritance and about $2,000 of her own savings. Pure grossed a mere $600 in 2006. Bates expects 2007 revenues to reach around $21,500.
That may not seem like a lot but Bates is confident that number will continue to grow. Pure has had 84 percent client growth in the last year. (The company donates its services to conservation agencies such as Pro Peninsula and San Diego EarthWorks.)
While Pure’s profits are small, Bates may be on to something.
The sale of eco-cleaning products jumped from $140 million in 2000 to $290 million in 2004, according to the Nutrition Business Journal. Bates is also banking on pure health and environmental statistics to help fuel her business and the green-cleaning market.
Consider this: More than 150 chemicals found in the average home have been linked to allergies, birth defects, cancer and psychological abnormalities, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Furthermore, there has been a 28 percent increase in childhood cancers since the addition of pesticides in household products, according to the National Cancer Institute.
Morris, founder of EPIC, said those facts alone should help drive companies and consumers to use more green products.
“Although going green is kind of a trend, people are realizing that the environment and our health is being threatened, and that there are easy, environmentally friendly, cost-effective solutions they can implement,” said Morris, who launched EPIC eight months ago and donates all profits to local environmental organizations. “Besides, it’s good PR for anybody to go green.”
The biggest challenge for companies like EPIC and Pure, Morris said, is convincing companies and consumers how easy it is to switch to green-cleaning products.
Bates said she has her sights set on spreading her eco-friendly business to different cities and, hopefully, becoming the leading green-cleaning services and products company in America.
Andrea Siedsma is a freelance writer based in Encinitas.