Cleaning & Maintenance Management Online

Documentation: The Cornerstone Of The GS-42 Audit

September 19, 2010

GS-42, Green Seal''s Environmental Standard for Cleaning Services, is a certification program providing building service contractors (BSCs) and in-house service providers (ISPs) with objective and meaningful guidance to help them develop a green cleaning program.

However, a certification is only as strong as its criteria and the adherence by certified organizations to those criteria.

The Green Seal evaluation and auditing process helps ensure those seeking certification comply with the standard and, just as important, continue to stay in compliance after certification is achieved.

"Green Seal is very explicit with guidelines, and you have to tailor what you''re doing to the requirements," says Bill Garland, president of Canadian-based Daniels Associates Inc., a solutions provider for the building services and service maintenance industries, and a GS-42 Auditor. "There''s not a lot of leeway there."

GS-42 certification requires that BSCs "Develop and maintain a set of written guidelines or standard operating procedures (SOP) that govern the cleaning procedures, chemical handling and tracking requirements, equipment maintenance and operation procedures, communication protocols and requirements, training and inspection programs and reporting and record keeping procedures," which is not something that can be done haphazardly.

Green Discipline For Cost Savings: A Key Point

Garland has worked in a variety of capacities over his 30-year career.

Lecturing on green cleaning for the past decade as well as performing Green Seal audits, he has conducted a number of field studies that continually lead to the same conclusion: The discipline of setting up a green cleaning program saves money.

"Because of the structure of GS-42 certification, Green Seal makes you look at what you''re doing, which very few companies really do, and which in the end should save you money," Garland notes. "There''s no way that being green should cost you more money."

The GS-42 Auditor Is Your ''Friend In The Business''

While audit has some ugly connotations — IRS, anyone? — that shouldn''t be the case with an on-site evaluation for GS-42.

Usually, the trepidation cleaning managers experience is simply a case of not understanding the process, what the auditor is looking for and what his or her role really encompasses.

"The real start occurs substantially before I show up on the scene, with the assembly of the written materials," Green Seal Auditor Mike Van Splinter says. "After everything is correctly documented, I go in and do the initial interview and, frankly, one of the first things I say to people is, ''I appreciate where you''re sitting, because I spent 47 years on your side of the desk.''"

"I know the mixed emotions prompted by the word ''audit,'' so I assure them that fault-finding isn''t the intent at all, that we are building bridges, not walls," continues Van Splinter. "That''s the whole intent of Green Seal, to bridge the gaps that may exist in this industry."

Certification to the GS-42 environmental standard is about recognizing environmental leadership in an often underappreciated industry.

Documenting Progress

Documentation is crucial to the auditing process, the "anchor of the company ship" as Van Splinter describes it.

"A safety auditor told me years ago, ''If it''s not written, it''s not happening,''" Van Splinter says. "In many cases, people are doing the right thing, they know the right answers, they''re even training correctly, but it''s not written down anywhere. This is one of the major advantages of the steps you have to take to become certified."

Van Splinter reviews all the paperwork submitted by the applicant to see that:

  • It''s in order and conforms to the criteria laid out in the Green Seal environmental standard

  • That the applicant is actually doing what they say they are doing.

Partnership Not Punishment

The Green Seal certification process is best described as a partnership; instead of a punitive approach or a rubber-stamped "re-submit" when documentation isn''t quite up to par, the auditor works with the applicant to smooth out any bumps.

Applicants are made aware of any corrective actions needed and given the opportunity to make the necessary changes or edits.

"If we feel there are some things missing, we''ll talk to them and say, ''There are some items we think you need to look at,'' so that when we actually come out and do the audit, look at specific service locations to make sure they meet the requirements, they know what they''re going to be accountable for," Garland adds. "They''re going to be prepared, and they''ve got their documentation in place."

"Frankly, the whole thing is usually very congenial," asserts Van Splinter. "I''ve never had anything contentious come up on either side because I think everybody picks up on it pretty quickly; the whole idea is you''re there to help, not hinder, in order to make a good system better."

Tough ''Green'' Love Means Success

"GS-42 certainly pays off. It gives you a very important weapon in your marketing," Van Splinter says. "You can''t watch television for more than an hour on any network without hearing somebody talk about ''going green'' or something being ''green.'' Green Seal is, if you will, the guide down this path of avoiding questionable claims and misleading advertising. It''s so easy to walk into marketing traps. If it''s not certified by Green Seal, as far as I''m concerned it''s not green."

GS-42 certification helps create a stronger, more disciplined organization.

Proper documentation is the first step in building that organization.


Mark T. Petruzzi is the vice president of certification and strategic relations for Green Seal Inc.