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The green cleaning guide

September 19, 2010
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As the sustainable movement gains momentum, building maintenance contractors are likely seeing a spike in client and prospect requests to clean green.

In-house cleaning professionals are also feeling pressure to go green.

The following article helps demystify the process of implementing a green cleaning program by offering useful tips on sustainable facility maintenance.

Why clean green?
For many building service contractors (BSCs) and in-house cleaning professionals, meeting the increased demand for green friendly maintenance programs can be a challenge.

Finding the right eco-friendly products and programs for both you and your customers can be frustrating and often raises more questions than answers.

In the recent past, reliable and tested information on green cleaning practices was difficult to find.

Today, however, the challenge is not finding reliable, vetted information, but rather finding the right environmentally friendly philosophy that matches your organization’s needs and your clients’ and prospects’ eco-specific maintenance goals.

A building maintenance contractor or in-house service provider seeking to go green needs to first learn how to successfully navigate an increasingly complex process.

The nine tips listed below are designed to help organizations start the process of cleaning green.

1. Understand what it really means to be green
Initially, it’s critical to understand what “green” really means. Implementing a green cleaning system involves research and awareness of the possibilities, benefits and processes — it’s more than simply trading traditional cleaning supplies for eco-friendly products.

2. Understand your market’s goals for going green
Do your research. What is it that your client base, as a whole, is looking for when it comes to adopting green cleaning programs? Are your clients, on average, seeking to lower operating costs, improve working conditions, or become eligible for government funding? Or are many of your clients seeking to improve their image as an environmentally conscious organization or facility?

In order for your company or department to go green, you have to understand industry trends in eco-friendly cleaning and design your new program to meet this demand. Once you understand the market demand, then you become an expert that can assess a client’s or prospect’s expectations for undergoing a green cleaning transformation.

Do they truly have realistic expectations for green maintenance programs and an understanding of what green cleaning is and is not? Do they have realistic expectations for your green cleaning services? And ultimately, are they the right match for your services?

3. Assess your current cleaning practices
Transforming your current cleaning program to a green cleaning program is not always an easy task. First, you should take a complete inventory of the facility’s cleaning products and equipment. Then, determine which aspect or aspects of your cleaning program can be greened first.

Very often, simple and inexpensive changes should be made first; these simple and inexpensive alterations will provide a high return on investment and will make the process feel less overwhelming. Start small and build upon these initial changes in a measured and strategic manner.

4. Evaluate your cleaning products
The path to green cleaning starts with an inventory of the janitorial closet. Take a long look at the products you use. Many cleaning products are chemically-reactive, toxic and can emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are a known cause of respiratory and dermatological problems among a host of other afflictions. If the products used to clean your building are causing indoor air pollution, creating a toxic environment or unnecessary waste, consider alternatives.
For instance, vinegar and water is an excellent substitute for cleaning finished wood floors and windows. Minimizing the use of disinfectants, except for primary contact points such as bathroom sinks and toilets, is an excellent policy.

5. Make sure that you are using or purchasing the right, environmentally friendly mechanical equipment
The equipment used during the cleaning process should be quiet, durable and, most importantly, energy efficient. Energy efficiency promotes conservation of valuable resources and can help reduce your client’s operational costs over the long-term life of a facility. Furthermore, many clients are now seeking third-party evaluations of their building’s green efficiency.

With new green certifications processes being implemented in the industry, there is an increased likelihood of clients asking for proof that your products and equipment meet green certification standards. Having a great green plan on paper is one thing, being able to back it up with proof is another.

6. Obtain proof that your company or department is using environmentally safe practices, products and equipment
Have the paperwork and certifications to back up your pitch that your organization can deliver the green goods. More than ever before, third-party certification programs are available to organizations seeking to legitimize their green cleaning programs. Find the certification program that is right for you, and well-known in the industry, and embrace the process. While the green certification process might be time consuming, it is well worth it and essential to implementing a green cleaning program.

7. Educate your staff members about green cleaning products and practices
Assess your staff’s knowledge of green cleaning products and their uses. Make sure you educate your employees about how to use each product and the practices of green cleaning. Simply providing green cleaning products is not enough. Employees must be taught how and in what situations to use these products. Obviously, green cleaning cannot be performed without green cleaning products, but it is the combination of the right product with a green-educated staff that will yield the best results for your client.

8. Create an internal communication plan for your green initiative
Educating your staff about green products and practices will ensure proper implementation of your green program. However, a strong communication plan that emphasizes the benefits employees will enjoy from the green program is the key to long-term success of your initiative. Staff members need to not only understand how to use these new green products, but also why the green initiative will be beneficial to their day-to-day work lives. Before you launch your green cleaning program, you will need to spend some time promoting your efforts and educating your staff and tenants.

Once the program has started, you’ll also need to find ways to reward staff members for adhering to the green program; this will keep your staff interested in the program and motivated to keep your clientele happy.

Also, alert your staff about the new green program well in advance of its start. This transition is a major step and most staff members do not want to feel rushed into a major change. It is also important to place signage around the building explaining all of the benefits of your newly implemented green cleaning program.

9. Let your market and the general public know about your new green program
Prepare and disseminate a press release to appropriate media outlets. Send a kickoff memo from management to tenants, announcing the program and requesting participation. Also, consider a launch event to generate some enthusiasm for the program. Involve local community business and government leaders with a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Chad MacDonald is the president and CEO of Virginia-based ServiceForce, a leading provider of facility services and management programs. ServiceForce offers a comprehensive solution for facilities and property owners and managers who juggle multiple contractors, multiple points of contact, and multiple invoices across multiple sites. Chad is nationally known for his visionary approach to the strategic growth of business, the facilities maintenance industry and emerging technologies. To contact Chad, e-mail

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