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Green Seal certification of cleaning services

September 19, 2010
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In early April, Washington, DC-based Green Seal posted on its website for public review the proposed standard to provide building service contractors (BSCs) and in-house facility managers and directors with Green Seal certification of cleaning and maintenance services.

According to Green Seal President and CEO Arthur B. Weissman, responses to those comments are currently being made in writing, and the information provided by the public will be taken into account when a group of approximately 120 stakeholders cast their ballots on a final, revised version of the standard.

Green Seal, an independent nonprofit organization dedicated to safeguarding the environment through the use of environmentally responsible products and services, will then publish the final version of the Green Seal standard for cleaning services in June.

Weissman recently spoke with CM/Cleaning & Maintenance Management® magazine about the nearly year-long process to develop a certification standard for cleaning services, the scope of the standard, and the effects this standard will have on the future of the professional cleaning industry.

CMM: It seems like it has been an uphill battle to bring together a group of about 120 stakeholders made up of BSCs, public interest groups, chemical manufacturers, and equipment suppliers in an effort to gain a consensus and formulate this standard. How do you feel about how the process went, and its end result?

AW: Bringing together diverse stakeholders with competing interests is always a challenging task, and we experienced some bumps in the early stages last year. But I am very pleased with how the stakeholders’ process has worked out and how constructively stakeholders have participated in the process.

Because of the expertise and experience stakeholders bring to the table, the final standard will be far superior to anything we could have developed without their extraordinarily helpful input.

CMM: Along the way, the certification standard has been modified and fine-tuned. What is the scope of the Green Seal certification standard for cleaning and maintenance services that will be officially released in June?

AW: The Green Seal Environmental Standard for Cleaning Services covers both in-house and external (e.g., BSC) cleaning service providers.

I emphasize the formal name of the standard because the certification will be of a service, not of a company; a BSC may theoretically have certified as well as non-certified (conventional) cleaning services.

The standard does not include residential cleaning services, though we hope to address that in the near future.

The standard covers many aspects of a cleaning service, including planning, training and communications; products, supplies and equipment used; and the actual procedures used to clean.

So it encompasses the cleaning chemicals we are better known for certifying, and requires that the procedures and infrastructure for their use are also designed for Green Cleaning.

As we know, having the right chemicals and equipment is only half of Green Cleaning; they have to be used in the right way, too.

CMM: What will be certification standard be based on?

AW: The standard is based on our own past work, including our product-related standards (such as GS-37 and 40) and the Pennsylvania Green Building Operation and Maintenance Manual, as well as standards of other organizations such as the Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI) and accepted best practices in the industry.

As always, Green Seal seeks to integrate and unify leading-edge work to fashion a comprehensive environmental standard.

CMM: No doubt, BSCs and any in-house facility managers and directors who opt in to the program will have to change their overall approach to cleaning a building. How much pre-planning will they be required to do?

AW: We have found that many in-house and BSC cleaners are already modifying their approach to incorporate Green Cleaning, given its explosive growth in the industry. We do require planning in the form of written standard operating procedures and facility-specific Green Cleaning plans.

The latter may be new to some cleaning service providers, but we consider it an important means to ensure proper implementation of Green Cleaning and consideration of special situations, such as vulnerable populations.

Also, the standard requires that appropriate chemicals, supplies and equipment are used and that personnel are trained sufficiently and given the proper channels of communication.

Where a service provider is not already using green products or giving proper training and communication, it will have to make changes in its purchasing and operations to win certification.

CMM: To meet the certification standard, will BSCs and in-house facility directors be forced to only use Green Seal-certified products and equipment?

AW: Well, I would take issue with the term “forced”. Using certified green products is completely consistent with providing a certifiable Green Cleaning service.

What we propose to require is that, in product categories where there are certified products from the Green Seal or Canadian ecolabeling program Environmental Choice, those products be used.

In other categories, where certified products do not yet exist, the standard provides criteria that should be met by a majority of the products used.

CMM: Will there be a radical change in cleaning procedures?

AW: No. Green Cleaning procedures are generally good (or best) practice cleaning procedures.

The recent growth of parallel systems such as Team Cleaning® is very much aligned with the common-sense approach of Green Cleaning procedures, with an emphasis on skilled, expert work in the various cleaning areas.

CMM: With the introduction of any new program, communication and training will be key components. What will the requirements be in these two areas?

AW: We have some pretty comprehensive requirements for both communications and training. Cleaning providers must develop a communications plan both for their own internal communications and for those with the facilities.

For the former, they must take into account language issues; for the latter, information must be made available on chemicals used and the special needs of vulnerable populations.

In training, we require that all line personnel receive basic training before they are allowed to clean independently. In addition, they must receive 16 hours of continuing training or education each year. Supervisors are required to have 24 hours of training or education a year.

CMM: Does Green Seal have a monitoring plan in place to ensure a level of compliance for BSCs and in-house directors who are enrolled in the program?

AW: Absolutely, our monitoring program covers all certified products and services. In this case, we expect to check periodically on compliance with all requirements and to have spot checks of actual facilities cleaned by the service.

CMM: From comments on CM/Cleaning & Maintenance Management Online™ Bulletin Board (www.cmmonline.com), there is still reluctance by many BSCs to offer Green Cleaning simply because building owners and occupants who fear added costs are not requesting such a service. What is a BSC to do in this case?

AW: A BSC may offer whatever service it desires; we are certifying those cleaning services that meet our requirements.

Speaking more broadly, we expect that some BSCs, particularly the larger ones, will offer both green and conventional cleaning services in the transition period.

Eventually, those facility managers you allude to will be eagerly seeking Green Cleaning services, once they recognize the overall benefits (including total life-cycle cost savings) of Green Cleaning.

CMM: Conversely, it would seem that some BSCs will be proactive when it comes to marketing and may set themselves apart from the competition by offering Green Cleaning as a premium service. Could you see that becoming a more popular and profitable strategy?

AW: That may happen, and it may enhance the overall value of the cleaning industry.

One expert recently told us that he foresees the premium cost of Green Cleaning — due largely to training requirements — to be a boon to the industry, including its workers, in that it will drive profitability and also enhance value in customers’ eyes.

While we agree that there may be such positive results from a premium for Green Cleaning services, we would like to see Green Cleaning eventually become the standard, not the exception, in the industry.

CMM: Now that the Green Seal certification of services is on the verge of becoming a reality in June, what effect do you think this program will have on the professional cleaning industry in general?

AW: We hope that it will catalyze the industry to embrace and promote Green Cleaning widely.

We think it will be good not only for customers, but also for the industry itself. After all, we’re talking about a service that not only cleans, but is also more healthful and environmentally responsible.

That seems like a positive trajectory for the industry and for the building occupants who will benefit from it.


Arthur Weissman is president and CEO of Washington DC-based Green Seal. He can be reached at AWeissman@greenseal.org.

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