Cleaning & Maintenance Management Online
April 2013 Raising Standards

Sustainability Beyond Green Cleaning

A comprehensive program should address the three pillars of sustainability.

April 5, 2013

Green cleaning, especially over the past decade, has evolved to include more sophisticated products, tools and processes.

It has captured the attention of building owners, visitors and occupants, all of whom see the benefits of cleaning programs that minimize the impact on human health and the environment.

To be effective, green cleaning programs require planning and attention.

This is why ISSA has included a Green Buildings component in its Cleaning Industry Management Standard (CIMS) called CIMS-GB.

CIMS-GB not only addresses the critical elements of a green cleaning program, including products, processes and performance; the Standard also is designed to fit neatly into an organization’s overall sustainability program.

This is because green cleaning is an integral element of sustainability.

Regardless of the type or size of the organization, having a comprehensive cleaning program that stems from its overall sustainability goals is essential to helping the organization meet them.

Defining Sustainability

The most widely cited and accepted definition for sustainability comes from the Brundtland Report in 1987: “Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

Sustainability has been further defined to include the “triple bottom line” or three pillars of sustainability: People, planet and profit.

Given the definition of sustainability, it is reasonable to expect that a comprehensive green cleaning program should encompass not only environmental considerations, but also social and economic considerations as well.

It is common for people to think that a green cleaning program primarily involves the use of environmentally preferable products, equipment and materials.

However, while the use of green products is imperative — and also required under CIMS-GB — a comprehensive program involves much more than products.

It requires a different approach to cleaning, including a deeper look at all aspects of cleaning, written policies and, above all, a strong commitment to sustainability.

To move beyond green cleaning to sustainable cleaning, managers need to consider how they operate their departments and how that impacts overall operations.

Consider the impact cleaning can have on the environmental, economic and social pillars of sustainability:

  • Environmental: Improved air quality, waste reduction and resource conservation.
  • Economic: Reduced operating costs, improved worker productivity and increased lifecycle of buildings and surfaces.
  • Social: Enhanced appearance and impression of the indoor environment, improved occupant comfort and health.

Sustainable Cleaning

What sets a sustainable cleaning program apart from a green cleaning program is that it addresses each of the three aspects.

Managers who want to implement a sustainable cleaning program should be sure to consider and include the following six elements:

1.      Green cleaning policy

This written policy details the purchase and use of sustainable cleaning products and equipment and addresses chemical and pollution control, pest management, solid waste management/recycling and resource conservation.

The policy should also include detailed information on how green processes will be followed, managed and measured.

2.      Reduced chemical and water usage

Managers can help identify opportunities to reduce chemical and water consumption with equipment and dispensers designed to use less and/or precise amounts of each.

Additionally, the right products and equipment will avoid the need to redo areas, which results in all kinds of savings.

If restroom fixtures are part of the cleaning scope, managers can choose low-flow options.

Finally, engineers can help facility managers come up with options for using storm water or nearby ponds as sources of water for irrigation of landscaping.

3.      Decreased energy use

Day cleaning eliminates the need for lights and heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems to be left on at night, reducing heating, cooling and lighting loads.

Cleaning workers also can help reduce energy use by ensuring various pieces of office equipment are powered down at the end of the workday.

4.      Waste reduction

Recycling and waste reduction programs are the most successful when they are shared broadly.

Recycling “cheat sheets” help educate building occupants on proper recycling procedures.

Other ways to reduce waste include partnering with facilities teams to implement a composting program, eliminate disposable cups and require workers to use two-sided printing.

5.      Social responsibility

Depending on the type and size of the cleaning organization, social responsibility initiatives can include anything from management training programs for workers to volunteer programs.

Social responsibility also means complying with local and federal laws and enhancing the communities in which the organization works.

6.      Commitment to continuous improvement

Sustainability does not have an end; it requires a never-ending commitment to reducing environmental impact for future generations.

Cleaning managers must make sure to measure progress, communicate accomplishments and set new goals.

Sustainability is a course of action for businesses today and cleaning organizations have an important role to play in reaching sustainability goals.

While green cleaning is a big part of this, cleaning managers need to see — and communicate — the impact cleaning has on overall sustainability.