No longer just buzzwords or phrases, “green cleaning,” “environmentally preferable,” and “sustainability” are built into today’s facility management vocabulary. Facility professionals are beginning to understand that green cleaning starts with a look at the products and continues beyond that with an examination of the entire system or process.
The reasons for implementing a green cleaning program-to improve indoor air quality (IAQ) and the health of building occupants and to reduce cleaning’s environmental impact-are clear. A mix of green cleaning processes, procedures, and products may help lead to a more productive environment.
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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that people spend up to 90% of their time indoors. Products and materials indoors release volatile chemicals and particles into the air that may negatively affect a person’s health or result in unacceptable odors. Furthermore, undesirable IAQ can increase the risk of sickness and lead to ailments such as allergies, asthma, reproductive and developmental problems, and cancer.
The economic impact is equally alarming, since poor IAQ can affect employee health and productivity. A 2005 report by California’s Air Resource’s Board estimates the cost of poor IAQ in California alone to be $45 billion per year. A green cleaning program can help reduce these costs.
“Billions of dollars are lost annually as a result of poor IAQ,” says Carl Smith, CEO of Atlanta, GA-based GREENGUARD Environmental Institute, an industry independent, non-profit organization dedicated to improving IAQ. “Workers compensation and health care claims contribute dramatically to that figure. Other costs to an employer include lost days from work, decreased productivity, and the expense of investigating complaints.”
Beyond the health impact, green cleaning can also be a simple, cost-effective part of earning U.S. Green Building Council Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for Existing Buildings (LEED-EB) certification. In fact, a green cleaning program is probably one of the most cost-effective, easy to implement programs within the LEED-EB rating system.
Facility managers should be mindful of the frequency, time of day, application method, and total square footage in order to minimize a substance’s impact on building occupants, says Smith. “The products themselves don’t tell you how they affect people,” he says. “How, when, and how often a cleaning substance is used can have a significant impact on the exposure people have to those products. It is very important to understand both the environmental and human health aspects of a green cleaning program.”
Depending on the facility type, location, and mission, the level at which organizations adopt green cleaning varies. Generally, facilities implement green cleaning on one of three levels: products, procedures, and green building status. Understanding each level will not only help facility managers get started, it will also prompt them to continue to evolve and grow into the next green cleaning step.
Level 1: Products. The road to green cleaning begins with an inventory of the janitorial closet. Is it a picture of organization? Is it clean itself? Or is it a grand collection of cleaning products: some consumer products that look like they were brought in from home; dirty standard mops and buckets; and feather dusters, broken vacuum cleaners, and paper products sourced from who knows where? A green cleaning program starts by sorting out the chemical situation and working hard to reduce the total number in use.
At the California EPA headquarters in Sacramento, Thomas Properties Group manages the 1,000,000 square foot LEED Platinum facility. Craig Sheehy, director of property management, has been so passionate about the reduction of cleaning chemicals that he has managed to pare it down to one. This product is used for hard surfaces, glass, hard floor cleaning, and carpet spotting. It’s not only effective, it’s highly sanitary, simple to use, and, in consideration of sensitivities of occupants, it’s fragrance-free.
Facility professionals who are unable to decide on the effectiveness of products can turn to Green Seal. The independent, not-for-profit organization certifies offerings based not only on environmental criteria but on performance as well.
When purchasing Green Seal-certified products, facility managers can rest easy knowing that, when applied according to instructions, workers are using the safest and healthiest products available. Green Seal offers standards for glass cleaners, hard surface cleaners, degreasers, and floor care products. Facility managers can search the Green Seal Web site (www.greenseal.com) for product standards and the latest list of certified products.
When Green Seal is not an option, the following tips can be used for selecting products:
- Purchase cleaners that come with-or are compatible with-dilution control systems. Dilution control systems ensure that the correct ratio of chemical to water is dispensed for cleaning. They are also safer for workers, because they are completely enclosed, thus minimizing worker contact with concentrated chemicals. Cleaners packaged as concentrate also produce less packaging waste than ready-to-use cleaners, because one bottle of a concentrated product contains more uses than one bottle of ready-to-use cleaner.
- Look for systems and products that come in recycled and/or recyclable packaging.
- Select chemicals certified by an independent, third party organization. Make sure products meet performance criteria and are proven to clean. It is also important that products are compatible with building materials and surfaces.
It is also important for facility managers to make sure the latest MSDS information is on hand and workers are up to date on how to read them. While this is an OSHA requirement, it sometimes gets lost in the training regimen. It’s pretty basic, but it needs to be said: Always make sure there is a training program in place for cleaning workers so they know the potential hazards of any products they are using and are aware of the proper techniques for using them.
Level 2: System. While green cleaning products are important, the tools and procedures used with them are equally critical. In fact, all three components-products, tools, and procedures-and how they are used together is most notable.
Some equipment and tool factors to consider include performance, reduction of water and chemical use, ergonomics, and noise and dust generation. If possible, facility managers should use microfiber tools that require less water and chemicals to clean surfaces effectively.
It is also wise for professionals to look for vacuum cleaners that are Carpet & Rug Institute (CRI)-certified. Other cleaning equipment should meet guidelines set up in the LEED-EB rating system. Managers can consult equipment manufacturers and their distributors for details on the improvements available in tools and equipment.
Even the best tools won’t work unless cleaning workers are trained and embrace their use. Change management is a big part of a green cleaning program at any level, but becomes critical when procedures are overhauled.
Facility managers should offer thorough and ongoing training regarding the proper use of all chemicals, processes, and tools. Staff members might appreciate clearly displayed and illustrated instruction cards in the janitorial closets next to products, tools, and equipment.
With the use of any cleaning chemical or janitorial equipment, workers should be reminded to use appropriate personal protective equipment and follow product directions carefully. Finally, all cleaning waste should be disposed of according to regulations.
Level 3: Green Building Status. Guidance from Green Seal and GREENGUARD leads facilities toward green building certification. This is good news for facility managers who work in organizations that place high strategic value on the ongoing sustainable operations of its buildings. For instance, some cleaning programs can help facility managers earn as much as one-third of the points needed for the USGBC’s LEED-EB rating system.
Regardless of certifications, a company’s green cleaning efforts speak volumes about a building, an organization, and a facility manager’s strategic approach. Every green undertaking demonstrates how key players in the company care about the health of employees and the environmental viability of the buildings that house them.
Carron is director of global facilities and real estate for Sturtevant, WI-based JohnsonDiversey Inc., a provider of cleaning and hygiene solutions. For more information, visit www.johnsondiversey.com.
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