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Back To Basics With Green Cleaning

September 19, 2010
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In simpler times, Grandma cleaned windows with vinegar and newspaper.

Her reasons were probably two-fold: To reduce her exposure to harsh chemicals and to save money.

By just using commonsense, Grandma was practicing green cleaning.

The benefits of green cleaning are being touted across industries — from health care and schools to retailers, businesses and hotels.

And, with green industries generating up to 8.5 million jobs in the U.S., green has gone mainstream.

"Green cleaning is more than just switching to eco-friendly cleaning products. It encompasses effective cleaning to create safe buildings, healthy employees and reduce the environmental impact," says Robert Shoemaker, chemical industry consultant.

The Green Cleaning Network defines green cleaning as, "Cleaning to protect health without harming the environment."

Many building service contractors (BSCs) are "going green" in their cleaning systems as they learn how cost-effective and beneficial the process can be.

Most start by looking at environmentally friendly cleaners to reduce exposure to potentially hazardous chemical, biological and particulate contaminants for workers and customers.

"Cleaning products can adversely affect indoor air quality and worker health since many contain high levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) which have been linked to respiratory irritation and headaches," says Shoemaker.

Generally, environmentally-friendly cleaners feature no or low VOCs, have low-toxicity, are noncorrosive and are biodegradable.

If you are interested in green cleaning, there are three logical steps to the process: Plan; implement; and evaluate.


Start by considering your "cleaning carbon footprint" and how to re-duce it.

There are five different areas to be considered: Employees; the environment; the economic effects; how you clean; and new technology that can be implemented.

Using green products can greatly reduce employee loss of productivity, absenteeism and health care costs that can result from chemical exposure.

Establishing a labor/management environmental committee is a good first step.

Such a committee is a great way to brainstorm and hear multiple sides of the issues.

Communication is crucial so everyone understands their role and how they can contribute to the success of the program.

With this in place, you have a good start on making your green cleaning program as effective as possible so it can boost your bottom line, employee satisfaction and retention.

The environmental impact of toxic cleaning chemicals and their containers should be considered.

Cleaning solutions should meet EPP standards (Environmentally Preferable Purchasing designated through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency).

Investigate products that reduce packaging, including portion-controlled concentrates and dosing systems or water-soluble packets that dissolve in water.

A recycling program for used containers should also be planned.

The environmental impact and cost to manufacture, ship, warehouse and use your cleaning chemicals should also be analyzed.

Chemicals are often available in concentrated form to reduce the environmental impact of excess packaging and to save on freight and storage.

How employees use the cleaning chemicals is extremely important, as chemicals are often wasted or misused.

How you clean can be as important as what you use to clean.

Review cleaning procedures to determine if you are "over cleaning" — stripping your floors or shampooing your carpets too frequently — and put a program in place to ensure you clean adequately.

To further reduce costs and be environmentally friendly, research available technology to reduce the spread of germs — and the need to clean certain areas.

Sensor-activated lights, toilets, faucets, soap and towel dispensers reduce the need to clean and help maintain cleanliness.

Furthermore, many green cleaning guidelines emphasize purchasing sustainable cleaning products, materials and equipment such as microfiber mops and cloths to reduce the need for cleaning chemicals.


Before launching a full-scale green cleaning program, start small with a test run to help work out any kinks and ready the plan for implementation on a larger scale.

Decide how you will evaluate the program and set up a practical way to capture the data, keeping in mind that a baseline is necessary to determine the true success of the program.

Select products that carry the DfE label since they have been screened by the EPA''s Design for the Environment (DfE) scientific review team and are certified to contain only those ingredients that pose the least concern among chemicals in their class.

Consider purchasing cleaning kits that are customized with just enough product to clean the location for a set period of time so you can monitor chemical overuse or underuse.

Use containers with proper Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) labeling.

Inform employees of the health, safety and environmental benefits of the new standards and train them on the new program.

Start by restocking your cleaning supply area with the new cleaners.

Hang informational posters or wall cleaning charts with the correct product usage clearly displayed — use training materials in multiple languages if necessary — and review cleaning and recycling procedures.

Also educate customers and employees about your green initiatives.

Market your new cleaning approach … preserving the environment is a hot topic.


Evaluating during and after the test run provides an excellent opportunity to make sure the goals are being met and identify areas of opportunity and areas of success.

Ask employees if they think the program is working and if they''d do anything differently.

Review absenteeism, and health care costs and assess morale to see how much of an affect the green initiative has had.

Document amounts and types of toxic chemicals eliminated and reduced and calculate how much savings have been realized.

Note the environmental impact of the new cleaning system, including what toxic chemicals have been eliminated.

Review purchasing efficiencies and the new cost of cleaning; work with suppliers/cleaning contractors to make changes if necessary.

Finally, enjoy the benefits of green cleaning and knowing that your company is contributing to the health and safety of your employees and preserving the environment.

Promote your green cleaning initiative as a good practice and model for your industry by translating the amount you''ve recycled and your reduced carbon footprint into everyday items so your employees see the benefit.

Businesses, schools, hospitals, retailers and their cleaning service contractors are discovering that the shift to green cleaning can be a healthy change on every front.

By fully analyzing individual cleaning methods and costs, and systematically implementing a green initiative, it is possible to eliminate toxic chemical release and exposure potential, reduce packaging waste, improve sanitation and minimize costs.

In the final analysis, many are finding that designing and implementing a green cleaning program just makes sense.

Steve Seneca is president of Philadelphia-based Pak-It LLC, a company providing green cleaning solutions including Pak-It pre-measured cleaning concentrates in water-soluble packets. For more information, please visit

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