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Walking the green aisle

September 19, 2010
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Many facility service providers at this year’s ISSA/INTERCLEAN® show in Las Vegas will be looking to enhance their existing green cleaning program or develop a new program.

Some attendees are going green because it’s the right thing to do for building occupants and the environment.

Others will be looking at green cleaning programs because they want to obtain LEED-NC or LEED-EB certification to enhance property value or because their local government or board of directors has mandated they go green.

Despite the reason, many attendees will find themselves in a forest of green.

The cleaning industry has come a long way in developing green products and programs since the arrival of the first green cleaning product.

Many of today’s products are extremely effective and have less negative effect on the health of the cleaning staff, building occupants, and the environment.

However, the popularity of sustainability can equate to dollar signs for marketers, leading to an influx of green claims affixed to undeserving products.

This practice, commonly known as “greenwashing,” can leave many cleaning professionals scratching their heads when trying to decide which product is best for their operations.

To determine which green products will be best for their operations, cleaning professionals must first assess long-term goals of the initiative.

Is going green a path to help protect the health of building occupants and cleaning staff?

Is it a business strategy to stay competitive or save costs?

Is it an effort to limit the impact of cleaning on the environment?

The goal of a green cleaning program will affect the types of measures to be considered.

For instance, if the goal of a green cleaning program is to reduce the impact of cleaning on the environment, efforts should focus on products that reduce water and energy consumption while limiting the amount of toxins used during the cleaning process.

If the goal is to reduce the impact of cleaning on worker and building occupant health, ergonomic cleaning tools and chemicals with low volatile organic compounds (VOCs) should be considered.

A successful green cleaning program will accomplish all of these goals.

The “triple bottom line” encourages businesses not to only look at the profitability of their business, but to also evaluate the social and environmental costs of how they do business.

To optimize the potential impact of a green cleaning operation, cleaning professionals should look to manufacturers that do not just provide products, but rather entire solutions.

Green certifications
Third-party certifications are one way to weed out unproven or false green claims.

These certifications offer cleaning professionals quick and easy ways to identify products that meet set environmental criteria.

“With chemicals, I look for either the Green Seal or EcoLogo,” says Harry Kendrick, director of housekeeping services at Darmouth Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, NH. “Green Seal is the primary label for chemicals made in the U.S. and EcoLogo is for chemicals made in Canada.”

Kendrick also suggests cleaning professionals look to TerraChoice, which is the sponsoring organization for the EcoLogo program, to provide clarity on different environmental claims.

TerraChoice offers a free white paper identifying the “Six Sins of Greenwashing” (See box at left).

This is a good resource for cleaning professionals to read before going to a trade show to understand the reality behind different green claims.

In addition to certifying agencies for chemicals, cleaning professionals can also look to GREENGUARD for products and systems that impact indoor air quality and the Carpet and Rug Institute’s Green Label program for vacuums with superior performance standards.

The partnership
In addition to third-party certification, a manufacturer’s green claim should be substantiated with extensive user support.

Most cleaning professionals do not have the time or resources to research, train, and market its green cleaning program.

Therefore, they should look to suppliers to become their partner in the process.

Potential areas of support provided by manufacturers can include:
  • Onsite demonstrations and training.
  • Wall charts and visual references.
  • Corporate experts who can answer regulatory or compliance questions.
  • Advice on additional ways to green operations.
  • Programs to help you market your program and communicate the benefits of green cleaning.
In addition to providing extensive support, manufacturers should also demonstrate a corporate commitment to sustainability.

For instance, what has the company done to reduce the amount of packaging or water used in its manufacturing process?

Recommendations from the field
To better understand manufacturer and distributor green claims, some cleaning professionals suggest looking to companies with a proven track record of providing environmentally preferable products.

“One of the things I look for before buying green is the manufacturer’s reputation and history,” says Kent Miller, director of environmental services for Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana, IL.

Diana Ronning, director of environmental services at Swedish Medical Center in Seattle, WA, agrees. “I look to companies that have a proven track record in the industry, proudly show their Green Seal certification, and communicate how their products are green and ecologically safe for humans and animals.”

While larger companies often have the resources necessary to obtain third-party certification, also keep in mind that smaller companies are also able to develop new and innovative ways to green facilities.

“Before purchasing a new green product, always ask for evidence of claims made and seek references,” adds Kendrick.

“Speak to other users of the product who can attest to its performance.”

If you’re headed to ISSA to find new green products this year, first establish program objectives.

When you arrive at the show, speak to manufacturers about the types of third-party certification its products have and any training and support the company provides to help you market your green cleaning efforts and communicate the value of green cleaning to customers and building occupants.

Use the show as an opportunity to network with other cleaning professionals and ask if they have any experience using the product.

By remembering these tips, you will be able to reduce confusion and better navigate the green-filled aisles in Las Vegas.

Andi Vance is an account supervisor for Mulberry Marketing Communications (, a public relations agency specializing in the JanSan industry. She has several years’ industry experience, previously working as director of communications for the International Executive Housekeepers Association and editor of Executive Housekeeping Today. For more information on ways to market your green cleaning product or program, contact Andi at
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