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The silent anthropological and social repercussions of cleaning
Speaking at the Golden Service Awards, Toni D'Andrea, CEO of ISSA Pulire Network and Director of ISSA EMEA, reflects on 'the silent anthropological and social repercussions', along with the imperceptible dynamics the act of cleaning - by some 30 million workers globally in over 125 billion covered square metres - sets in motion.
"The Golden Service Awards 2022 is an important opportunity to reflect and share some thoughts on the cleaning world, what it represents in our daily lives, and especially on the future that awaits us. I imagine many of you are familiar with the global service sector, not just from a technological and economic point of view but in terms of its day-in, day-out relationships with the manufacturing world.
What often escapes us, and this is what I'd like to focus your attention on today, is this world's silent anthropological and social repercussions, along with the imperceptible dynamics it sets in motion. Its input has become crucial to our lives.
I refer to an industry that in Europe spans almost 180,000 companies employing more than 3.5 million people and generating turnover in excess of €80 billion. An immense community of workers, of whom over 70% are women, often working at night (over 70%, peaking at 86% in Nordic countries). A community that, on a global scale, spans over 30 million workers to ensure cleanliness and safety for over 125 billion covered square metres... and that's just in two, not three dimensions.
Anthropologically, people say that each country's service industry is its single greatest workshop for social and cultural integration. What is undeniable is that cities that provide their residents with clean, well-lit areas, with well-designed and maintained urban furnishings, are cities where individuals are naturally more willing to meet, talk, spend time together and engage in cultural exchange.
At a more theoretical level, within the context of socio-cultural reflection, we may say that the presence of different ethnic groups in our increasingly global metropolitan centres (and we are well aware that multiple ethnic groups prevail in this productive sector) requires disseminating a culture of cleanliness to raise a variety of experiences towards their highest expression, through a sensibility capable of promoting modern, civil coexistence.
Whether or not such a modern approach emerges in any given country essentially depends on planning for the future, and on how we present cleanliness as a value.
If we apply integrated design to finished perimeters, urban space and workplaces that can easily be cleaned and run, ensuring maintenance is as safe and effective as possible while using the most advanced technologies, we drastically reduce not just waste but the costs of such work, as well as respecting the environment in terms of energy, water and detergent consumption.
Think what would happen if, for just a few hours, such places had to forego cleaning services. Think how our perception of a given place would change. Imagine hospitals, kindergartens, transport, shopping centres, streets and gathering places, suddenly without any cleaning services at all. Within hours, we'd be assailed by foul-smelling effluent and toxic fumes, invaded by insects, and attacked by rats.
You will agree with me, then, that 'Cleanliness is always an investment, not a cost'. And that's true before we even get on to the fact that a safe, well-run property maintains high commercial values.
In his famous book 'How We Got to Now', Steven Johnson names cleaning as one of the six factors of innovation characteristic of the modern era, that over the last 200 years have raised us up from an agricultural to a post-industrial society, in which 'SERVICES' are the major driver of wealth.
In a survey, sociologists recently selected three factors to determine a country's level of modernity. They came up with: the condition of building facades, the level of ambient noise, and floor cleanliness.
In our individual and social systems of needs, cleanliness is both directly and indirectly a key focus of interest. Cleanliness, i.e. how clean things are, determines our enjoyment of situations we experience. Cleaning corresponds to an organisational approach that, once complete, makes it possible to plan for the future.
Cleanliness is not just about vacuum cleaners and sweepers, detergents and disinfectants, it provides an extraordinary opportunity to review our behavioural approach and the events of recent years from an anthropological, pedagogical, political and indeed common sense point of view.
Cleaning up can be an invitation, an exhortation to an exercise of collective intelligence, one in which we should regularly engage in order to improve societal outcomes and pave the way for stable wellbeing. The cross-cutting and sometimes circular journey we take on the planes of social and individual knowledge leads us to an ordered, multi-level reading of events and situations, of needs and solutions that, though apparently very different from one another, are subtly interlinked. Method and Desire are the variables that govern the flows between the two: method makes the outcome of the 'doing better' replicable; desire ensures personal involvement in whatever the 'doing' activity is.
Over the last two years, the pandemic has drawn a clear line of demarcation worldwide between before and after. It has repositioned the cleaning services sector within the collective imagination at the top of our new priorities.
During the long months of new cases and restrictions, people realized that, even before masks, medicines and vaccines, cleanliness is the element that most effectively prevents the spread of the disease and interrupts the chain of transmission generated on all accessible surfaces, starting with our hands.
Here today, we are the guests of people who have developed specific hand hygiene expertise over the years. Wouldn't it be great if their experience became the rule for us all? A rule to be passed down to our children as a rule of civility.
Travelling the world in recent years, in many restaurant restrooms I've spotted a plaque that expresses the concept well: after using the facilities, restaurant staff are obliged to wash their hands. Washing hands is a civil obligation, part of the rules of living we took on many years ago... Rules that, today more than ever, must be a commitment. Hand hygiene is the most important hygienic rule according to countless studies: hand hygiene alone can prevent 40% of infections.
Cleaning healthcare environments warrants a whole chapter to itself, especially when it comes to Healthcare-Associated Infections, managing risks caused by locale contamination, and objectively measuring sanitisation processes. The European Centre for Infection Control estimates that each year, nearly four million people in Europe contract hospital-associated infections. Of these, approximately 90,000 die from one of six common types of infection. Hand hygiene and environmental cleanliness are at the top of measures to prevent infections.
Between now and 2050, 73 billion square metres of public and private new buildings will go up around the world for the next generation. That's a vast amount, if you consider that through mankind's entire 200,000-year history, we have so far erected 145 million square metres.
All of this new space will, like the old, have to be cleaned, managed and run.
To rise to that challenge, we'll have to work in an informed manner on three separate fronts:
- Integrated design: Organic programming that effectively and simultaneously intervenes in multiple focal areas.
- Skills and training: Primarily worker qualification and skills integration, and, last but not least,
- Respect and gratitude: Because only when we acknowledge the work others do as necessary to us all can we feel we are part of a modern society."
2nd June 2022