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Embracing the age of enlightenment

September 19, 2010
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There is an ancient Chinese proverb that states: “May you live in interesting times.”

For those of us in the cleaning industry, these are very interesting times.

As always, we are faced with numerous challenges. Many are the same things we’ve dealt with for years that most of us see as just the normal course of business.

But, there are newer challenges that, if embraced with passion and a realization of the opportunities for advancing our industry, could redefine that very industry.

The old challenges will no doubt remain with us since they are at the core of any business.

However, professionalism is something we as an industry need to address, and soon.

Newer challenges
Our industry is in the midst of a very dynamic period; we truly are engaged in a period of enlightenment.

Two of the newest challenges we face are green cleaning and cleaning for health.

While these challenges are not new, both have drawn a great deal of attention to our industry.

This attention is not always complimentary, but it does provide opportunities for us to emphasize the importance of what we do.

Some say that if we are green cleaning, we may not be cleaning for health.

Green cleaning is cleaning for health.

An effective green program allows us to clean for the health of our environment, the health of the people we serve, the health of our cleaning professionals, and the health of our bottom line.

“This green movement is going to cost a lot of people their jobs,” recently remarked a facilities director at a school district.

He added that those who do not embrace the greening of their facilities — which includes understanding the philosophies and applications of green cleaning, and become their facility’s experts on green — may find themselves replaced by someone who does possess that level of understanding.

But, the fact of the matter is we can do it all.

The market has already driven manufacturers to respond and provide us with an abundance of offerings.

Today, we have greener chemicals, paper supplies, equipment, and chemical delivery options.

For organizations pursuing LEED-EB certification through the United States Green Building Council (USGBC), we can provide a significant number of points to aid the process.

All of this allows us to address the green side of the equation and reiterate the importance of our contribution.

Know its limits
Green products may not tackle every health issue.

We have a number of offerings to deal with outbreaks of disease, some more effective than others.

Manufacturers are continually striving to provide us with even better options for disinfection.

And, we continue to strive for even better methodologies.

Often times we take the blame for an outbreak when it is more a hygiene issue among the tenants of the facility.

However, when we do not follow proper procedures we can and do make the situation worse.

Standards for improved image
One of the main problems facing our industry is the fact that we really have no national standard for cleaning.

Rarely have I heard of someone who was happy to spend $75 or more per hour to a plumber for services rendered.

How is it that a plumber can charge those kinds of rates?

They follow a code for their industry, for which they have received training and usually certification.

They have knowledge that the average person does not possess.

How has the cleaning industry been able to function for so long without a national standard or code for our services?

Typically, our services have been seen as an afterthought, a necessary evil.

Given the attention cleanliness and its impact on health has been receiving in our “news in an instant” society, it is doubtful that we will be allowed to function much longer without some form of standard being created.

Fortunately, science is getting involved.

The Cleaning Industry Research Institute (CIRI) was formed to help make the connection between science and the cleaning industry.

At the second annual CIRI symposium in June, it was announced that a cooperative project to develop a national standard for the cleaning of K-12 schools is being undertaken by CIRI with ISSA.

CIRI will provide the science-based research, while ISSA will develop a standard similar to its Cleaning Industry Management Standard.

From this starting point, more comprehensive standards for other industry segments should follow.

On another scientific front, we are also getting better tools to measure our effectiveness.

In particular, the Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) meter helps us to quickly measure how well we have removed organic soil from a surface.

Yes, there is some training involved in proper use of this meter, but it is a wonderful tool to quantify our value beyond a visual assessment.

How can you help?
Do you already belong to a trade organization? If so, become more active within the group.

We have no shortage of quality groups that represent one or more facets of our industry.

If you are not already a member of one of these organizations, consider joining and becoming an involved member.

Look into membership with the USGBC (companies only) and/or your local chapter of the USGBC (companies or individuals), and become active in the green movement.

Become engaged in the process of improving our industry and our image.

We are being presented an opportunity that rarely comes in a career.

That opportunity is to shape, or perhaps more accurately, re-shape the very essence of our industry.

We have the opportunity to:
  • Adopt best practices that actually allow us to clean better.
  • Take credit for giving our customers cleaner and healthier facilities in which to work, learn, and heal, while helping protect the outdoor environment.
  • Use scientific methods and tools to prove we are effective with our efforts.
  • Provide recognition to those who engage in this noble battle for sanitation, day in and day out — or night — and year after year.
All of these things will allow us to improve the image of the cleaning profession, but only if we are willing to embrace this age of enlightenment.

Bill McGarvey is the training manager for the Philip Rosenau Company, a JanSan distributor in Philadelphia, PA. Bill has over 30 years experience in the cleaning industry and has achieved Industry Certified Expert status under the ISSA Cleaning Industry Management Standard. He can be contacted at

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