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Green beyond chemicals

September 19, 2010
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Green cleaning is a movement that is taking the cleaning industry by storm.

However, the term "green cleaning" is still often misused and misunderstood by those within and outside of our industry.

The biggest misinterpretation is that green cleaning means simply swit-ching from traditional to green cleaning chemicals.

Although the use of environmentally preferable cleaning chemicals is an important component of green cleaning, it is just one of several involved in the process of going green.

Getting to green

The goal of a green cleaning program is to create the healthiest, most productive facility possible for the occupants while, at the same time, minimizing adverse impacts on health and the environment due to the cleaning products or processes themselves.

Thus, a comprehensive green cleaning program must evaluate the unique needs of the building and its occupants, along with all of the chemicals, paper, tools and equipment used to maintain the facility, plus the training, procedures and staffing levels in order to meet the goal.

It is wise for cleaners to have a good understanding of green cleaning not only because it is a major trend in our industry today, but also because green cleaning ultimately is going to help our industry tremendously by increasing society''s respect and value for these services.

For the past two decades, the major emphasis in the JanSan industry has been to find new ways to "do more with less".

Accordingly, most new cleaning procedures, products, and systems have been developed with the primary goal of improving the productivity of cleaning personnel and reducing costs.

Although these aspects are important, the health of the facility and those who live, work or occupy it have not received the same deserved attention.

Green cleaning changes all of this by helping to clarify the connection between cleaning, health and the protection of our environment.

Before discussing the many components that make up a successful green cleaning program, it is important to clear up some lingering misconceptions to allow us to set the framework for a better understanding of how to implement a green cleaning system.

What is green cleaning?

Green, or environmentally preferable cleaning products are defined in Presidential Executive Order 13101 as "products or services that have a lesser or reduced effect on human health and the environment when compared with competing products or services that serve the same purpose".

To meet this goal, cleaners must first:

  • Understand how green cleaning products can reduce cleaning''s negative impact on custodial workers, building occupants, and the environment
  • Develop a sense of stewardship (leadership and caring) for those potentially affected by the products used
  • Provide training for all those using the products
  • Be able to communicate well with all involved parties

Although all of the components of a green cleaning system are important, communication is the most vital: Good communication requires all major stakeholders in the process to fully understand why a green cleaning system is being implemented, as well as why their participation in this system is so important.

Without this communication and participation, the full benefits of a green cleaning system cannot materialize.

The chemical component

With the introduction of green cleaning chemicals and systems, cleaners can clean effectively, while reducing unnecessary exposure to potentially harmful cleaning chemicals to themselves, others and the environment — without increasing costs.

In fact, studies of facilities where a green cleaning program has been employed show improved indoor air quality (IAQ), as well as decreased customer and worker complaints.

In many cases, the program has saved building and company owners money.

Added values

In addition to those mentioned above, implemention of a green cleaning program has many other environmental and economic benefits, including its potential to:

  • Conserve natural resources because many products are made from renewable sources
  • Enhance and protect natural habitats
  • Reduce building operating costs and increase profits in other areas besides cleaning
  • Improve employee productivity and satisfaction
  • Contribute to the health and well- being of the community
10 easy steps to a greener facility

Now that the definition, goals and benefits of a green cleaning program are better understood, it is time to develop and begin a comprehensive, yet easily implemented program.

To establish such a program, building owners, managers and occupants, led by cleaners, should implement and follow these 10 steps:

1. Reach an agreement

The customer — including building occupants and management — must all agree on how they define a green cleaning program and how it will be implemented in their facility.

Once decided, it is preferable that the agreement is translated into a concise, easy-to-understand contract.

2. Build the team

Once an agreement is reached, all parties must build a team that includes cleaning professionals, building management, and occupants.

Through discussions and meetings with all those affected by the green cleaning program, the team helps generate support for the project and plays a pivotal role in its success.

3. Conduct baseline surveys

One of the team''s first duties is to determine the current housekeeping status of the facility by conducting surveys that set a baseline from which to judge improvement.

The survey should include an inventory and evaluation of existing paper products, cleaning supplies, and equipment used in the location.

It may also include appraisals of:

  • Overall housekeeping quality
  • Cleaning procedures, including training and supervision
  • Recycling efforts
  • Existing IAQ problems and complaint records
4. Develop a plan

Once all of the data has been collected, the team must analyze the information to determine the areas that most need attention, as well as the cost, potential health and environmental impacts, and the best procedures to use for improvement.

The plan should outline what things need to be done immediately, while other issues can be phased in over time.

5. Get everyone on board

It is vital for everyone involved to support the team''s plans and goals.

Having all parties included in the process and how and why things are being done helps to keep everyone on the same page and support the ongoing process.

6. Acquire green products and equipment

To begin the process of greening a building, new cleaning products and equipment may need to be purchased, including products that are environmentally preferable.

Other items to be purchased may include:

  • Vacuum cleaners with high-efficiency air filtration systems
  • Floor machines that have dust-control systems to capture impurities and help preserve IAQ
  • Microfiber cleaning cloths that reduce bacteria buildup and better capture dust
7. Training in green cleaning

Traditionally, the lack of adequate training has been a problem in the cleaning industry.

The adoption of green cleaning is an opportunity for all maintenance personnel to learn the most up-to-date cleaning procedures.

This can significantly streamline housekeeping operations and improve the health of the facility being maintained.

8. Implement the new green cleaning procedures

The purpose of the new cleaning procedures is to help cleaning professionals use products carefully, safely and with the goals of green cleaning in mind.

9. Take responsibility

Once a green cleaning program has been initiated, it is important that cleaning personnel, occupants and visitors share in the responsibility of maintaining the new program and therefore, a healthier and more productive indoor environment.

10. Communicate and provide feedback

As mentioned earlier, communication and feedback are vital elements of this process.

As with any new process or procedure involving many people, the ultimate goal is continued improvement; information provided by all parties facilitates this.

Stephen P. Ashkin is president of The Ashkin Group, Bloomington, IN, a consulting firm specializing in greening the cleaning industry. The Ashkin Group provides green consulting services for school districts, building owners, product manufacturers, and cleaning contractors and can be reached at (812)332-7950. Visit to sign-up for DestinationGreen, a free monthly e-newsletter to help salespeople sell green cleaning products.

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