Cleaning & Maintenance Management Online

Does Green Pay Off?

September 19, 2010
In the 1996 movie Jerry Maguire, Tom Cruise, who plays the title character, manages the careers of athletes—many of whom have egos as big as if not larger than their athletic prowess. In one scene, Maguire gets through to Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Rod Tidwell, one of his clients, who is disgruntled by his contract because he believes it to be inferior to those of his teammates. With Maguire’s phone jammed with clients on hold, Tidwell tests Jerry’s resolve by keeping him on the line to prove he will work harder to get Tidwell the contract he deserves. To do so, he says over and over again, “Show me the money!” The phrase eventually became part of 1990s pop culture.

In many ways, the sentiment can be applied to Green cleaning today. Facility managers and building service contractors (BSCs) keep hearing that Green cleaning pays dividends—that facilities can save money, cut costs, and improve worker productivity just by transferring from conventional to environmentally preferable cleaning products. But just like Tidwell in the movie, many facility managers and BSCs are digging deeper and asking for proof; in other words, they want the advocates of Green cleaning to show them the money.

Several years ago, this would have been more difficult than it is today. However, in just the past few years, several studies have been released that indicate Green cleaning, along with the implementation of more effective cleaning techniques and systems, does pay off and business owners, school systems, medical facilities, and scores of others will see “the money.”

The following examines the Green payoff as a result of enhanced worker productivity, fewer cleaning-related worker injuries, and less downtime. It also looks at how Green cleaning eliminates one of the “secret costs” of some conventional cleaning products.

Case in Point #1: Worker Productivity
One of the benefits of environmentally preferable cleaning products is that they have less negative impact on indoor air quality. This is because, among other reasons, they release fewer airborne volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which have been proved to contribute to a variety of respiratory and other health-related problems.

Researcher and consultant Dr. Judith Heerwagen studied the effects of improved indoor air quality on worker productivity. Evaluating numerous well-documented studies, Heerwagen found that productivity increases ranging from 0.5 percent to 7.0 percent, which translates into approximately 3 to 34 minutes saved per day, are not unusual when the indoor environment is improved, often as a result of using environmentally preferable cleaning products.

This improved productivity may happen because workers are not interrupted as often to sneeze, cough, or blow their nose, as a result of fewer airborne VOCs from conventional cleaning products. Or it can be because a worker simply feels better and more productive in an atmosphere free of respiratory irritants.

Increased productivity also means money on the table for business owners. According to the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA), salaries and benefits paid to workers in a “Class A” office building total approximately $300 per square foot.** This means that an increase in worker productivity of just 0.5 percent translates into $1.50 per square foot. Multiply this times hundreds if not thousands of workers, and you can see how the savings mount up and do so quickly.

Case in Point #2: Healthier Cleaning Workers
Often when we discuss the benefits of Green cleaning products, our focus is on how they help protect the environment. However, our emphasis should first be on how they help protect the health of the cleaning workers, the people who spend hours every day spraying and wiping chemicals on surfaces and performing a variety of cleaning tasks. And protecting their health is another place we see the financial benefits of using Green cleaning products.

The U.S. Department of Labor ranks the use of some cleaning chemicals as among the top hazards in the professional cleaning industry. In 2005, there were nearly 220,000 accidental poisonings, including 36 deaths, as a result of using or misusing cleaning chemicals, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers. Additionally, exposure to some conventional cleaning products introduces concerns about the chronic, long-term effects on workers, which the association indicates are hard to measure or report.

It is believed that the average amount of time lost when a custodial worker suffers a job-related injury as a result of using a conventional cleaning chemical is about 18 hours. Each incident can cost an employer an average of $650 or more in medical and related costs. On top of this, there may be added costs associated with productivity loss and potential litigation costs. By conservative estimates in the food industry alone, avoiding these costs could save employers more than $15 million annually. Similar if not much larger savings are possible in the education, hospitality, and healthcare sectors, which employ thousands of custodial workers.

Case in Point #3: Eliminating the “Secret Costs” of Conventional Cleaning Chemicals
Ever hear of the expression, “penny wise but pound foolish”? Usually, it refers to choosing one product over another because it costs less only to find that, in the end, it costs more to use—perhaps because more of the product must be used or it simply does not work as well—than the more expensive product would have. Ultimately, the buyer would have saved a tidy sum if he or she had just purchased the more expensive item in the first place.

Although most environmentally preferable cleaning products are now comparable in price to their conventional counterparts, some may still cost a bit more. So to save money on the “sticker” price, some industries readily use powerful cleaning chemicals that must be disposed of according to regulations established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). However, disposing of these chemicals can be costly. In fact, disposal can actually cost more than purchasing the product in the first place, an expense that could be eliminated by selecting a more environmentally responsible cleaning product from the start.***

The Role of More Effective Cleaning
These examples as well as many more show us that the use of environmentally preferable cleaning products can offer a significant cost savings, especially when it comes to improving worker productivity and protecting health. However, saving money can best be accomplished when the most effective cleaning systems and techniques are employed.

At the Cleaning Industry Research Institute (CIRI) symposium held earlier this year, the importance of more effective cleaning in eliminating surface-area germs and bacteria that can harm human health was addressed directly. Studies presented indicate that many traditional cleaning methods, such as the conventional ways of cleaning floors with string and even microfiber mops, are simply not that effective in eliminating potentially harmful contaminants when compared to newer technologies such as spray-and-vac cleaning systems.

This tells us that more effective cleaning systems and environmentally preferable cleaning products are working together to help protect the health of the indoor environment as never before. These benefits are tangible—they do show us the money!

*The Sustainable Office: Links to Worker Health, Well Being and Productivity, published by the U.S. General Services Administration, September 2003.
**The Ashkin Group, 2003.
***Federal Regulations, Title 40—Protection of the Environment; 40, CFR, Part 261.