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Salvaging Increased Sustainability

July 12, 2012
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When all is said and done, green and sustainable are no longer choices; they are expected.

What was once a fad has caught on in almost every aspect of our lives and, where possible, facilities strive to become greener and more sustainable.

Facility managers and building service contractors (BSCs) are well versed, or should be, in the multitude of ways they can contribute to their facility''s greenness.

They know all the latest and greatest products on the market, from equipment to chemicals and even the chemical-free push.

There is no denying that the innovations the industry has seen in both equipment and cleaning products has revolutionized the way we clean and has left buildings and their occupants cleaner, healthier and safer.

Often, however, there is a segment of nearly every building that can be overlooked.

While it''s obvious that green and sustainable buildings are expected to perform on a greater level, especially when it comes to energy efficiency and the overall health of a building, it''s the little things that can make an even bigger impact.

Or, if you want to be technical, less of an impact.

Ways A Plenty

There are a number of ways the products that building users use every day can help a building go green or stay green.

They tend to be overlooked for the simple fact that they are items we use every day and are simply a part of a routine.

These items include things such as paper products and trash bags.

Facilities can go through countless quantities of these items daily, yet their impact on the building and the environment at large is often overlooked.

Choosing biodegradable or post-consumer recycled consumables is an easy way to add yet another layer of sustainability to a facility.

Biodegradable refers to the chemical dissolution of materials by bacteria, enzymes or other biological means.

A material that is biodegradable will, over time, breakdown in to a substance that will not harm the environment in which it was disposed.

This does not mean that one should not be mindful of how the materials in their facility are being disposed of.

Although everything will eventually biodegrade, the process can be lengthy in some instances.

Post-consumer recycled (PCR) materials are those that have served their intended purpose and have been diverted or recovered from waste, which would otherwise be transported for disposal.

Goods that are made from PCR materials can be more expensive for the end user due to the greater degree of difficulty in sorting and cleaning the material before it can be repurposed.

PCR differs from so-called pre-consumer waste because pre-consumer waste is typically generated as byproducts from manufacturing or industrial waste.

Although there are exceptions, this waste generally cannot be repurposed or recycled.

What To Look For

When attempting to choose products for you facility, whether they be equipment and chemicals or paper products and trash bags, the idea is to choose things that will help the overall sustainability of the facility.

While this might seem like second nature, or even easy, it can be a little trickier than one might initially think.

Everyone wants to be sustainable or, at the very least, thought of as being green.

Unfortunately, this leads to everyone claiming their product, no matter what it might be, is the best, greenest thing for the environment, boasting some sort of claim, written or otherwise.

More often than not, these claims are less than true or altogether false.

The first thing anyone in a purchasing or decision-making position must do is their homework and their research.

These claims can typically be found on packaging or in accompanying literature, as companies who have incurred the expense of the green auditing process will want to express this validation to users.

Beware of companies that make internal claims without proper documentation; a printed letter on company stationery should not be seen as sufficient proof to an educated end user.

Beyond whether or not a product has a legitimate green claim, there are a number of other factors that must be looked at, chief among them is functionality.

"In the past, many so-called ''green'' products did not function as well as the products they were designed to replace," explains David Rives, vice president of sales and marketing for Revolution Bag. "This would negate the proposed benefit of the green product. This was especially true with PCR products where the recycled material did not hold comparable attributes to its virgin predecessors. This has changed over the years and, now, many PCR content products have been able to transition in to mainstream use through quality improvements."

The Good, The Bad And The Improved

Due to increased demand, biodegradable and PCR products are becoming more readily available.

Paper products top the popularity list, as virtually every single item can be made with PCR paper; everything from copy paper and legal pads, which many organizations go through in the blink of an eye, to paper towels and toilet tissue are easily made with PCR content.

As their demand increases, trash bags and other plastic products are becoming more popular.

Despite their growing popularity, the products are not yet perfect and are, in fact, a work in progress.

"Currently, the most common complaint with quality PCR products has been the ability to be cost competitive and the difference in appearance," says Rives.

There may be cosmetic differences between PCR content and its virgin predecessor, but the gap has been narrowed significantly over time and, in many cases, is virtually transparent.

With the cosmetic disparity reduced to a level that is deemed acceptable by end users, PCR content products are able to be used at a comparable level and often with a cost reduction.

Some end users still complain that PCR materials do not function at the same level as their virgin counterparts; however, as the demand for these products continues to increase, the quality will be forced to improve or they will become extinct.

"The current demand is increasing at such a rapid pace that manufacturing companies are starting to develop the proper technologies to ensure quality alternatives using PCR materials. For the organization willing to do their homework, these are available today," insists Rives.

The Impact

Paper, aluminum, plastic and steel are the most common materials used to develop PCR materials, keeping virtually everything that usually makes its way in to landfills out and repurposed for a new use.

When facilities choose products that have been made out of recycled materials, the perception that the facility is doing absolutely everything in its power to be sustainable is increased.

When facilities choose products that are gentler on the environment when they do end up being discarded, this, too, helps the overall perception of the facility and its workers.

Choosing products, from the paper in the copiers to the napkins in the dining halls, that will leave less of a footprint behind will do wonders in the fight to become and stay sustainable.

Every little bit counts.

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