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Putting Certification To Work

September 19, 2010
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In September 2006, Green Seal®, a nonprofit organization committed to promoting environmentally responsible cleaning products and purchasing, introduced GS-42.

GS-42 is a program designed to establish requirements for the certification of cleaning service providers, both building service contractors and in-house cleaning professionals.

According to Green Seal, GS-42''s objective, as with many of their other programs, is to protect human health and the environment.

Just as Green Seal certification verifies that a cleaning product is environmentally preferable, GS-42 certification verifies to facility managers that a cleaning service provider is meeting specific standards and is truly "green."

However, GS-42 is not the only standard or certification program now available to cleaning professionals.

The Cleaning Industry Management Standard (CIMS) certification program, which was developed by the International Sanitary Supply Association (ISSA), has a similar objective.

However, unlike GS-42, which is designed specifically for service providers and has a definite green focus, the CIMS program is a management system that takes a broader approach to cleaning operations and is open to janitorial manufacturers, distributors and others in the industry.

Both GS-42 and CIMS address such issues as:

  • Planning, management and operating requirements
  • Products, supply and equipment requirements (GS-42 specifically requires the selection of environmentally preferable products, tools and equipment)
  • Cleaning procedures and requirements
  • Communications, performance and training.

For the most part, the ultimate goal of GS-42 and CIMS is to demonstrate and validate that an organization is able to deliver consistent, quality services designed to meet the customer''s needs and expectations.

"Implementation of the [CIMS] standard affords an organization a tremendous opportunity to validate its management systems and processes," says Daniel Wagner, director of the CIMS program. "[The program] is helping members of our industry achieve unprecedented levels of professionalism and excellence."

Both programs are proving to be very beneficial for cleaning professionals as well as to manufacturers and distributors.

The key benefit to these programs is that they teach; however, through their power to withdraw certification, these programs also force cleaning contractors to adhere to specific standards and procedures that have been tested and determined to improve cleaning effectiveness, while also protecting human health and the environment.

As referenced earlier, GS-42 takes this a step further by specifying that only environmentally preferable chemicals, supplies and equipment may be used by its certified professionals.

It also requires the implementation of a building-specific green cleaning plan.

The programs in practice
Although these programs are demonstrably good for our industry, at this time they are experiencing somewhat slow participation.

One reason for this is because they are both relatively new.

Additionally, some contractors have balked at the costs and time required to complete the programs.

Because relatively few cleaning contractors have been certified by either of these programs, it may be very difficult for facility managers to find a GS-42-certified or CIMS-certified cleaning contractor.

In fact, facility managers who require certification, but are unable to find a certified provider, may have to foot the bill to have their cleaning contractors certified by one of these programs.

With certification still not reaching widespread levels at this time, being certified can be viewed as a "value added" feature for the moment — something that is offered by only a few select cleaning contractors.

However, in the not-too-distant future, it is quite likely that this will change.

For many facility managers and cleaning professionals, being certified is likely to become "value expected."

Experience with the programs
Feedback about these programs has been positive for those cleaning professionals who have taken part in them.

Some have even reported surprising benefits of completing the GS-42 or CIMS certification programs.

Most report that the training they received has helped them: Incorporate more efficient and effective cleaning procedures; improve their cleaning consistency; improve their overall business operations — sometimes in surprising ways; and have even proven to be an effective marketing tool.

For instance, one contractor said that before going through the CIMS certification program, her company did not keep equipment maintenance logs of any kind.

Therefore, they had no information available about the costs of recently purchased tools and equipment, which of their equipment required the most service and repair, or even where a given piece of equipment was being used.

Establishing maintenance logs, which is taught in the CIMS program, proved to be "a real eye-opener and helped us track our repair costs and [helped us] cut costs," explains the contractor.

"Now, for each piece of equipment, we have a log telling [us] the purchase date, the cost of the equipment, when repairs or maintenance were last required and their related costs, and where and how much use each machine gets on a weekly basis."

Cleaning contractors have also found that these certification programs can offer significant marketing benefits.

Describing what the certification process entails and means — and how it can help benefit the customer — has helped many companies in their bidding processes.

As one contractor states, "[Being certified] tells our current and future customers that we are cleaning professionals and [serves as] proof that we can do what we say we can do."

Other resources
As valuable and beneficial as the GS-42 and CIMS programs are, there are also other ways that cleaning professionals can improve their business operations, ramp up their cleaning efficiency and employ cleaning systems that have less impact on the environment.

A new book, The Business of Green Cleaning, published by the International Facility Management Association (IFMA) Foundation, contains several case studies that point out how relatively easy and practical it can be to implement green cleaning systems and procedures and discusses many of the same issues that are covered in GS-42 and CIMS certification classes.

And, one of the real "values" of this new book, because it is from IFMA, is that it will help shape the expectations of their members, who are the ultimate customer of the cleaning industry.

Another very valuable resource for both facility managers and cleaning contractors are janitorial suppliers and distributors.

Many distributors can offer their clients a wealth of information, helping managers and contractors put together a comprehensive, effective and environmentally responsible cleaning system.

When you think about where our industry has been and all of the changes and programs it has undergone in recent years — from green cleaning to cleaning contractor certification programs — it really is amazing.

Our industry is becoming more and more professional in every way, and its value has therefore grown as well.

Stephen P. Ashkin is president of The Ashkin Group, a consulting firm specializing in greening the cleaning process, and executive director of the Green Cleaning Network. In the book Environmentalism Unbound, Dr. Robert Gottlieb describes Ashkin as the "leading advocate for a stronger environmental profile among cleaning product manufacturers and suppliers." The Ashkin Group provides green consulting services for school districts as well as building owners, product manufacturers and cleaning contractors. For more information visit, call (812) 332-7950 or e-mail:

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