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Making The Case For Green Cleaning

September 19, 2010
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If you''ve tried to implement a green cleaning program and faced opposition from your administrators, it''s likely you''ve heard one or more of the following arguments:

  • Green cleaners are not as effective as traditional cleaning products

  • There''s no business value in switching to green cleaning

  • Green cleaning is not cost-effective.

While once somewhat factual, these claims hold little validity today.

When the "green" movement first began several years ago, products with less environmental impact were more expensive and didn''t perform as well as traditional cleaning chemicals.

However, since then, technological advances in chemicals, equipment and products have improved not only the sustainability of the products we use to clean our facilities, but also their effectiveness.

While the current economic crisis might make facility managers hesitant to implement a green cleaning program, now is the time to take action, as more and more facilities are recognizing the value of going green.

In fact, The Princeton Review just released its Guide to 286 Green Colleges, which found that 63 percent of college students consider a school''s environmental commitment when determining where to attend.

When you are convincing administrators to go green, it is important to help them understand that an investment now means savings in the future.

Here are some ways to dispel any misconceptions and show administrators that sustainable practices make for good business practices.

First Popular Misconception: Efficacy

The boss says, "Green cleaners just don''t work as well."

Your argument should be:

The performance issue is one of the longstanding misconceptions of a green cleaning program.

This characterization is largely the result of first-generation green cleaners.

Since then, technology has improved to make the performance of environmentally friendly chemicals equal to or better than their traditional counterparts.

With the number of products available marketed as "green" or sustainable, it is important to look for products that have undergone rigorous certification standards by third-party agencies such as Green Seal Inc. or the GREENGUARD Environmental Institute (GEI).

To meet many of these standards, green products must meet cleaning efficacy requirements.

For example, general purpose cleaners certified under the Green Seal Standard for Institutional and Industrial Cleaners (GS-37) must meet the American Society for Testing of Materials International (ASTM) Standard Guide for Testing the Cleaning Performance of Products (D-4488).

Products that don''t work well the first time aren''t really green at all.

When a product doesn''t work effectively, it requires additional chemicals, energy, water, packaging and labor to get the job done right.

All of that waste certainly isn''t green or sustainable.

Green products must work well, use resources efficiently and not put human health or the environment at risk.

If performance is the question, work with your distributor to test products against each other.

Before implementing a program, allow your staff to trial products and have them provide their feedback.

By enlisting their support, you raise awareness and generate more momentum in the movement to go green.

Second Popular Misconception: Business Value

The boss says, "This will have little to no impact on our business, so why bother?"

Your argument should be:

The reasons for implementing a green cleaning program — to reduce cleaning''s environmental impact and improve indoor air quality (IAQ) and the health of building occupants — are clear.

A mix of green cleaning processes, procedures and products can lead to a more productive environment.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that people spend up to 90 percent of their time indoors.

Some products and materials release volatile chemicals and particles into the indoor air that may negatively affect a person''s health or result in unacceptable odors.

Poor IAQ can increase the risk of sickness and lead to ailments such as allergies and asthma.

The economic impact due to lost time at work, disability, lost productivity and medical costs can be alarming.

Poor IAQ can significantly affect employee health and productivity.

A 1989 EPA Report to Congress estimates costs associated with poor IAQ to be in the "tens of billions of dollars per year."

California''s Air Resources Board (CARB) estimates the cost of poor IAQ in California alone to be $45 billion per year.

A green cleaning program can contribute to cleaner indoor air to help reduce these costs.

Common sense also tells us that better IAQ will lead to healthier people who will be more productive.

Beyond the health impact, green cleaning is also a requirement when earning the U.S. Green Building Council''s (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for Existing Buildings (LEED-EB) certification under the 2009 LEED-EB revisions.

In order to earn extra credits for training and documentation of green cleaning procedures, consider using a healthy, high-performing cleaning program that promotes overall indoor environmental quality beyond just green cleaning products.

Third Popular Misconception: Cost

The boss says, "Green cleaners cost more than traditional cleaning products."

Your argument should be:

While there may have once been a premium on green cleaning chemicals, most green alternatives are now cost-neutral.

However, when looking at the actual cost of the product, it''s also important to consider the indirect costs.

The total cost of cleaning is more than just what you pay for the products.

Consider how going to a green cleaning program can reduce costs in other areas.

A green cleaning program should also save money by reducing labor, energy use, water consumption and waste.

A good green cleaning program reduces the total cost of ownership by using resources more efficiently while increasing productivity and helping avoid regulatory fines.

Your return on investment of going green will also likely include injury prevention, employee retention and higher productivity.

Switching from several ready-to-use products to a multi-purpose cleaner in highly concentrated form will make your operations more efficient and reduce your total cost.

Green cleaning programs that utilize multi-purpose cleaners in dilution control systems are not only environmentally preferable, but can also help reduce costs by preventing product overuse and waste.

With the increased demand for healthy indoor environments and sustainable building practices, it''s no longer an "if" you will have to go green at some point, but "when" a program will be implemented.

Ultimately, if you are having issues selling a healthy, high-performing green cleaning system to your administrators, work with distributors and manufacturer representatives to develop a proposal to gain their buy-in.

Distributors and manufacturer representatives can help you identify the proper products that will meet the specific sustainable needs of your facility.

Dr. Daniel Daggett is the manager of corporate sustainability at Diversey Inc., a leading global provider of commercial cleaning, sanitation and hygiene solutions. To learn more, go to

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