Published 09.08.21

ESG is Central to Cintas

The concept of corporate social responsibility has evolved in recent decades. Where it once explained a company’s commitment to philanthropy and responsible social practices, it now also incorporates its environmental impact, how it governs itself and how it monitors compliance. Public interest in companies’ holistic environmental, social and governance – or ESG – strategy is a relatively recent and evolving concept.

At Cintas, we view our entrance into formal ESG reporting and the development of our company-wide ESG strategy as the next steps in our evolution.

That’s because many of the core ESG concepts now being measured and reported have been engrained in our company for decades. These foundations are rooted in our corporate culture and in our “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” mindset that’s woven throughout our business.

This isn’t a drastic leap for us. Rather, it’s a natural evolution of our long-standing business practices. Our sustainable business model began almost 100 years ago at the very origin of the company and has evolved in everything we’ve done since.  

Our Origins

The company’s sustainable principles date back to the company’s origins in 1929 during the Great Depression. Out-of-work circus performers Doc Farmer and his wife Amelia gathered dirty shop rags that local businesses had thrown away, brought them home to wash them, and sold the clean rags back to companies in the Cincinnati area. Unknowingly, they created a circular economy for the region’s shop rags and the resourceful spirit Cintas is known for today. Doc and Amelia also created our sustainable business model.

As the company grew, their grandson, Richard “Dick” Farmer, created a burgeoning uniform rental operation in 1959 that implemented the same business model – but for work uniforms – and provided an easy, affordable, and sustainable option for companies to outfit their employees. By renting uniforms to companies, he realized we could extend the life of the garments a lot longer, wash and dry them in a more responsible and sustainable manner than by employees doing it at home, and preserve natural resources in the process. His vision launched the company on its current path of success and confirmed that a sustainable business idea could be successful in the modern day – an idea ahead of his time.

Further business line expansions into facility services, first aid and safety, and fire protection under our next CEOs – Bob Kohlhepp (1996-2003) and Dick’s son, Scott Farmer (2003-2021) – deepened the company’s model further. Cintas’ new offerings were based on reusing and recycling end-of-life products and reducing the overall use of natural resources. They also introduced products and services that helped our customers keep their own facilities, employees, and customers cleaner, safer, and healthier.

Who We Are and How We Do It

Dick Farmer – who we credit as the Founder of the modern-day Cintas – documented and formalized our corporate culture in his book “The Spirit is the Difference,” which you will learn more about later in this report. His philosophy still carries forward today and underpins our business.

“The Spirit is the Difference” is handbook describing how we run our business. Its central themes are collaboration and common respect – for our people and the world around us. Respecting and valuing one another and each other’s contributions to our business is paramount. Over time, this has led to fantastic employee-partner engagement, great retention rates, a world-class safety program and a widely respected management philosophy. All of this has supported our ongoing innovation, which has helped minimized the environmental impact of our business.

Our steadfast belief in doing what’s right has guided our efforts to foster a supportive, inclusive environment for all our employee-partners. They’re engrained in all of our decisions; we carefully consider any potential impacts to them as carefully as we consider potential impacts to our overall business. Our care and compassion also extend to people affected by our business, including our customers, suppliers, vendors, and business partners.

We insist on ethical interactions with our customers, suppliers, vendors, and business partners. We insist on being a good corporate citizen and steward by governing ourselves with the core principals of accountability, fairness, ethical behavior, and compliance.

We believe we conduct our business the right way.

Today’s Cintas

Doc and Amelia’s ingenuity and environmentally focused activities of almost 100 years ago remain at the core of our company in 2021. As we’ve grown, we’ve enacted processes and policies to ensure we conduct our business with the highest of ethical standards and keep people central in all our decisions.

Our business growth, fundamentally, has been buoyed by our ESG mindset. Today, Cintas:

  • Incorporates sustainable practices throughout our operations;
  • Extends the lifespan of consumable goods to reduce their overall environmental impact;
  • Cleans and services items more effectively and efficiently than the consumer market and our competitors;
  • Provides higher-performance, longer-lasting alternatives to disposable or single-use products;
  • Offers competitive wages and salaries; expansive benefits packages; and ongoing support, training, and development opportunities to all of our employee-partners;
  • Supports and promotes the health, safety and welfare of our employee-partners, our customers and their employees and customers; and
  • Engrains us in the communities in which we do business by owning and maintaining property and capital equipment; being fair taxpayers; and supporting local initiatives and community priorities.

We’re proud that our history of ingenuity and innovation has resulted in our industry-leading practices and our continuous reductions in natural-resource use. Our record of considering environmental impacts in our business decisions has been a successful strategy, and beneficial to our financial success.

When you use Cintas services or wear our uniforms, you have chosen to minimize your environmental footprint. Our product and service offerings are intentionally developed to reduce the greater community’s impact to the environment. Of the four available options in the market – use Cintas, use our competitors, use disposable items, or do it yourself – Cintas is the most energy efficient, draws less water, reuses more materials, and needs fewer raw materials that any other option.

For our customers, that means we help them reduce their Scope 3 greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.  For those who consider home laundry options, traditional home laundering uses 55% more water and 204% more energy than we do.

What’s Next?

We’ve been at this for many years and have continually improved our environmental management, our people strategies, and our management processes. As ESG priorities have become more clearly defined and this holistic measure of business has evolved, we’ve been watching, listening, and learning.

Now we’re joining the conversation in a more meaningful way: we’re defining, measuring, and creating formal strategies centered on ESG principles.

What we’ve accomplished so far is only the beginning. We’ve already been tremendously successful, but we’re still at the start of our journey – one that will be further rooted in ESG platforms and concepts.

As you will read, one of our core company values is positive discontent. It pushes us to do more, be better and have a greater positive impact in our world.

Our recent announcement about our ambition to achieve Net Zero GHG emissions by 2050 is just the next step in our young journey. What started in 2019 as an effort to collect and analyze our company data for our first ESG Report continues today as a comprehensive, enterprise-wide business review that is expected to continue into 2023.

In August, we created our new VP of ESG and Chief Compliance Officer position and finished a multiple-department reorganization to form a new Risk & Compliance Department that reports to the new VP of ESG and CCO. This group will define and implement our ESG strategy, activities, monitoring and compliance.

As our organizational review continues, we will continue to review our processes in context of the developing ESG landscape. We expect to identify further opportunities to reduce our environmental impact, and even greater operational reductions in energy, emissions, water, raw materials, and waste. We also expect to bolster our initiatives around diversity and inclusion, human capital, safety and health, and our governance objectives, among other areas.

Our company has been based in ESG-related principles since the beginning. Each new chief executive introduced initiatives that strengthened our commitments to the environment, our people, and our processes.

Now, Todd Schneider – our new President and CEO – has taken the baton and his vision is setting the stage for the future.