Cleaning & Maintenance Management Online
January 2014 Feature 6
hallway school

Renewable Cleaning And The Hippocratic Oath

Taking advantage of new technologies and clearing the air on traditional cleaning practices.

January 6, 2014

In their book, Guerrilla Marketing Goes Green, Jay Conrad Levinson and Shel Horowitz show convincingly that firms that are eco-friendly, ethical and honest in their business operations and marketing are more successful than their traditional profit maximizing counterparts.

This is because firms are increasingly being judged not only on the quality of what they sell, but also for what they represent.

Becoming known for the ethical principles that your company follows is a very successful marketing strategy.

Taking An Oath

This principle is being promoted by the “Oath Project” calling for a shift in attitude and orientation of the business community that is embodied in what they call the “Hippocratic Oath for Business” or the “Green Hippocratic Oath” — first, do no harm to the environment.

Renewable Cleaning (RC) is a non-profit organization that embodies that attitude, follows its principles and has joined many others in signing that oath.

In our last article about RC, we explained how the organization is helping to change the cleaning paradigm.

Ruben Rives, like a growing number of business professionals, has signed the “Green Hippocratic Oath” and is participating in this new movement to do no harm, be fair and respectful to all parties, promote health and welfare of clients and society and help preserve the environment for future generations.

His cleaning paradigm is to clean for the health of occupants and workers and not just for appearance, and to promote sustainability indoors and outside.

RC takes full advantage of new technologies that significantly reduce chemical use to clean and sanitize, lowering the concentration of germs and mold on surfaces, and following a continuous improvement program based on measured and documented levels of cleanliness.

Why is that important?

An Educational Example

Consider what might happen in a typical suburban community with a relatively new and an older school.

The principal and parents of the newer school are probably proud of their school and perhaps the principal is intent on keeping it looking new.

Families have moved into the neighborhood as a result of the school’s good reputation, and test scores are among the best in the school district.

Consider that over the course of several years the principal of the newer school notices that her test scores have gradually become less favorable compared to the neighboring school, and her school isn’t looking so new and shiny like it used to.

She is flummoxed and a little angry and doesn’t know what’s going on.

Informally she starts collecting information on students and inquiring from teachers and children about their general feelings about each school.

Here is what she may likely discover.

Most are satisfied with the school buildings but are not as impressed as before because the interior is showing signs of aging.

There has been an inexplicable, imprecise, general sense of lethargy or malady in her school compared to the older neighboring school whose occupants seemed to be more alive and well.

Teachers and students in her newer school have higher absentee rates overall, but especially during flu season, and her cleaning crew has many more sick days off scattered over the whole school year.

Let’s be Sherlock Holmes of school facilities and figure this out.

If Sherlock did his homework, here is what he might find.

Cleaning Differences

The newer-school principal impressed on her cleaning crew to do whatever they needed to keep the school looking absolutely clean and smelling nice and freshly cleaned.

So, the crew doubled down on cleaning solutions and disinfectants.

They favored scented products and occasionally used products with natural oils (such as lemon or pine oils) that also smell nice.

Thus, the school looked and smelled clean, but was in fact full of several chemical contaminants, some of which are toxic to varying degrees.

These chemicals adhere to cleaned surfaces as well as the dust and dirt on out-of-sight surfaces that were not cleaned.

Further, the cleaning products are stored indoors where they constantly (day and night) emit chemical gases into the building.

Perhaps the school is also in an area where outdoor ozone levels are high.

If one reads the literature, he or she will see that ozone has been found to readily interact with surface chemicals such as terpenes that are found in products containing natural oils, and with chemicals found in air fresheners and other products.

Unfortunately, these chemical reactions create toxic byproducts such as formaldehyde, and some think that exposure to these byproducts explains part of the spike in respiratory hospitalizations during high ozone episodes.

All of these described elevated chemical exposures may well help to explain the overall feelings of lethargy/malady by all occupants as well as the high rates of sick leave of the cleaning crew at the newer school.

It also could explain why surfaces have gradually lost their luster in the newer school.

Chemicals can be harsh on surfaces, just as they are on people.

Finally, it is likely that many frequently touched surfaces such as door knobs, water fountain handles and desktops are wiped clean in the irregular manner typical of traditional cleaning methods but were not sanitized daily.

This helps explain why more students and teachers are absent due to illness during flu season when rates of disease transmission from contact surfaces is high.

The Other School

By contrast, the neighboring school — though older — is following the Renewable Cleaning philosophy.

The principal and the cleaning manager in that school had an open mind and different orientation to health and the environment, and they liked to give new ideas a chance.

Their school was clean but didn’t smell clean.

In fact it had no smell at all because the cleaning crew mostly used water-based cleaning technologies and reserved potent chemical cleaners for the toughest stains.

They also ventilated the space after their use to clean the air.

Sherlock may have found that the more open-minded but inexperienced principal and cleaning manager understood that a healthy school is everyone’s responsibility because they educated and engaged the teachers and students on their methods and gained their cooperation.

Working together, they minimized the need for harsh cleaners, disinfectants and pesticides by removing clutter that harbors pests, properly storing food and cleaning up after snacking so as not to attract pests.

They also instituted a program of thorough and regular hand washing using the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) hand washing technique and taught all students and staff how to properly cover their mouths when coughing or sneezing.

Even Sherlock — who can sometimes be pretty arrogant — would be impressed.

Being a man who leaves no stone unturned, Sherlock probably also read several scientific studies that demonstratehow these methods, along with other maintenance methods for clean and healthy schools, have been shown to improve health, comfort and human performance, including improved test scores of children.

So maybe, just maybe, the principal and the cleaning manager of the older school are on to something new and exciting.

What do you think?


David Mudarri, Ph.D., is a native of Boston, Massachusetts, devoted to advancing public health through indoor air quality education and state-of-the-art processes. He is recognized as a national indoor air quality expert and was a senior advisor within the EPA on indoor air quality. He authored a number of EPA studies. He currently consults for public and private sector organizations on a variety of healthy indoor environment matters. He can be contacted at Find more at