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Finding the path to true green

September 19, 2010
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By now, everyone in the cleaning industry has heard of green cleaning.

The market has been flooded over the last few years with products, tools and equipment designed and/or marketed to be safer and healthier for people, buildings and the environment.

The green movement continues to grow and does not show any indication of going away any time soon.

Its momentum is fueled by four key factors:

  1. Many more people are aware of indoor air quality issues and the increasing rate of asthma among children.
  2. Evidence is on the rise that well-being and productivity of building occupants may be increased when safe, healthy cleaning strategies are implemented.
  3. More and more green products are available that perform well and do not cost appreciably more than traditional ones.
  4. The presence of rating systems and certification programs for healthier products, tools and services and an overall increased awareness of the health and environmental impact of buildings further drive the growth of green cleaning.

Considering potential cost savings, the use of well-performing products, increasing awareness and recognition, and human and environmental health and safety, why would you not want to go green?

What does green mean?
Green cleaning is a process that reduces the overall impact of cleaning on human health and the environment by taking a holistic view of a facility, its mission and the activities that take place within that facility.

The success of green cleaning hinges on a larger principle — commitment to sustainability.

Sustainability is the notion of operating buildings in a cost-effective manner without negatively affecting occupants, human health and the natural environment.

Green cleaning is also a critical component of achieving third-party, nationally recognized certifications.

For example, green cleaning practices and products play a significant role in helping buildings achieve “green building” status through the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification.

Steps to achieving healthy, high performing buildings
When assessing your facility’s mission and activities, realize that what works for one building is not necessarily going to work for another.

Every building is different and has its own critical needs, so there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

To maximize the benefits of green cleaning, it is important to take the necessary steps to proper program implementation.

The following six steps will help facility professionals set reasonable objectives with milestones, create organizational awareness and participation, and instill ongoing program improvement.

Step 1:
Assemble a team and define the scope of the project

Establish a committee of stakeholders from relevant departments within your organization, including managers, building occupants, administrators and cleaning staff.

What are their concerns regarding cleaning? What problems do they see within the facility?

Talk about not only chemicals, but procedures, systems and goals. What is the green cleaning goal? Is it:

  • To replace harmful products with healthier and safer products?
  • To implement a complete green cleaning program, facility-wide?
  • To launch a pilot cleaning program in just one area of the facility?
  • To achieve “green building” status through the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED certification program?

Create a roadmap that will illustrate how, as an organization, goals will be reached. Set objectives and decide who will be responsible for the objectives and in what time period.

With milestones established, now the organization has a place to go.

Step 2:
Benchmark the facility

Create a checklist to assess current operating procedures and survey chemicals, tools and equipment.

Take pictures of key facility areas, including mats in entryways, restrooms and the condition of the janitorial closets. Pictures will easily show which areas need improvement.

Answer critical questions, such as: “What are the procedures (if they exist) to clean the facility?” and “What are the frequencies?” and “How are operations managed?”

With these answers and visual proof in hand, you will see obvious reasons for modifications and be able to better communicate the aims of the program to others in your organization.

Step 3:
Build consensus among the team

Find ways to agree on what can be done better or in a more improved way among cleaning and maintenance managers, along with the rest of the team.

Build consensus with the establishment or improvement of the recycling program, the selection of chemicals and cleaning processes with a goal of protecting staff, occupants and visitors.

There are various programs and guidelines available for helping organizations select chemicals, tools, equipment and systems.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Integrated Pest Management program offers ways to control pests while reducing pesticide use.

Certifying organizations such as Green Seal in the United States and EcoLogo in Canada take the guesswork out of specifying some products and chemicals by certifying products based on their impact on health, the environment and performance.

Most manufacturers also offer guides to selecting safer and healthier chemicals, tools, paper products and more.

Cleaning managers can pick and choose which resources, guidelines and programs work best for their facilities.

When considering any purchase, ask, “How does this product affect health, the environment and cleaning performance?”

Working in unison with the organization’s team creates awareness, provides perspective, increases team building and provides professional growth opportunities for those involved.

Recognize that working together on these programs links back to goals established early on.

Step 4:
Train the team

Training is a topic that is often talked about, but rarely occurs.

Training comes after you’ve assessed the facility, making sure everyone has an understanding of the important role of cleaning in healthy high performance buildings.

Teach cleaning employees that it’s just as important to keep dirt out of the building as it is to clean up the dirt in the building, noting that a pound of dirt costs about $1,000 to remove.

Training programs should also include chemicals, processes and tools.

For example, simply using a HEPA-filter vacuum is not sufficient when it comes to cleaning for health. Consult the Carpet and Rug Institute Green Label criteria for more information.

When considering paper products, draw upon the EPA criteria and look for recycled content, how products are packaged and how they are dispensed.

Many products, such as microfiber and concentrated chemicals that come packaged with dilution-control systems, are designed to be easier to use.

However, training is still required in order to prevent costly mistakes.

People new to microfiber technology will be unaware that it’s not effective to dunk the cloth or mop head in a bucket of solution, for example.

Dilution-control systems are designed to reduce the amount of cleaning products workers have to transport and store, but in order to leverage those concentrates, which can be hazardous to the user, closed-loop dispensing is recommended.

In addition to thorough and ongoing training, provide detailed and illustrated instruction cards. Store the cards in the janitorial closets next to products, tools and equipment.

Step 5:
Promote and market the cleaning program

Green cleaning can help elevate the important role the cleaning crew has in maintaining a healthy environment for the organization.

The healthy, high performing aspects of your cleaning program are selling points for your department and your organization, both internally and externally.

Develop a communications and marketing program to promote and increase awareness among employees, tenants and visitors, as well as the outside community, customers and investors.

Internally, the marketing of your cleaning program can help increase awareness among building occupants to keep their areas clean, wash their hands and help prevent the spread of germs within the facility.

Externally, customers will feel safer and more confident about visiting your buildings.

Step 6:
Aim for continuous improvement

Creating safer and healthier buildings is a journey. Once you’ve fully implemented a new cleaning program, the next step is to continue looking for ways to improve.

There are always going to be more opportunities to do more and do better when it comes to creating safer and healthier buildings.

It is important to revisit checklists, retake pictures and perform regular audits at least annually with the same diligence you and your team had when you started.

With more knowledge and awareness, you can look at your facility with an even more critical eye than before.

Moving forward
Green cleaning aside, keep in mind that, ultimately, the cleaning department is charged with cleaning buildings and using products in the appropriate manner with best-in-class procedures.

Follow instructions for using products and tools correctly and measure the results of doing so.

Provide evidence of collective results in measuring increased productivity, decreased risk factors, improved indoor environmental quality and health.

This data will back up your department’s efforts in helping provide safe, healthy, high performing facilities.

Dr. Robert Israel is director of corporate responsibility for JohnsonDiversey. He can be reached by visiting
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