By Linda Chipperfield
From the October 2014 issue of Today’s Facility Manager
When implementing or enhancing a green cleaning program, it is natural to place the focus primarily on what products to use. Unquestionably, cleaning products can have a huge impact on the environment and on the health and safety of workers and facility occupants. But a comprehensive and effective green cleaning program needs to take into account more than products. This is also important if the facility is being considered to pursue LEED certification, which requires that a building have an in-house green cleaning policy or use a certified cleaning service.
The choice of cleaning products is certainly paramount. Products can contain toxic chemicals and VOCs (chemicals that have short and long-term health effects and contribute to the formation of ground level ozone pollution. These products should not be used). A safer option is to choose environmentally preferable products certified by a credible, independent third party. Certification standards for safety and sustainability help facility managers (fms) identify products that are formulated to protect water and air quality, human health, and the environment.
For example, Green Seal’s Standard for Industrial & Institutional Cleaning Products (GS-37) stipulates that products cannot be formulated with harmful chemicals such as heavy metals, phthalates, formaldehyde donors, carcinogens, mutagens, reproductive toxins, asthmagens, and ozone depleting compounds. GS-37 also requires that cleaning products be in concentrated or ultra-concentrated form to reduce the volume of product sold, thereby minimizing packaging and transportation requirements.
Products should also be certified for effective performance, comparable to that of nationally recognized products in their categories. Fms will want to make sure the product they specify will perform to their standards.
As green cleaning programs have evolved their parameters now extend beyond product selection. An effective program will encompass processes and procedures, training programs, equipment, and communications to display environmental leadership. When hiring outside cleaning service providers, many fms have begun to mandate that providers are third-party certified to even bid on a project.
The GS-42 standard (Commercial and Institutional Cleaning Services) serves as one guideline for what a comprehensive green cleaning program might include. Some of the components of the standard include requirements for planning; products, supplies, and equipment; cleaning procedures; communication; and training.
- Develop and maintain a set of written standard operating procedures to be available to all cleaning personnel and clients.
- Have a building specific green cleaning plan in place that includes communications and feedback, schedules, specifics on floor maintenance, high traffic areas, vulnerable populations, special areas, and integrated pest management.
- Have a plan for use and quarterly maintenance of powered equipment as well as for phasing out equipment that does not meet the standard’s criteria.
Products, Supplies, and Equipment Requirements
- Use only environmentally preferable products certified by an eco-label or designated by a national program.
- New powered cleaning equipment should meet the highest standards for energy usage and emissions. Those that do not should be phased out.
Cleaning Procedure Requirements
- Chemicals: Use efficiently to limit waste and exposure.
- Solid waste: Reduce by minimizing packaging, reusing supplies, and recycling.
- Entryways: Considerations should be given to effective walk-off matting, and entryways should be subject to frequent cleaning to minimize introduction of contaminants.
- Disinfection: Use EPA-registered disinfectants only where needed and as directed.
- Restrooms: Clean and disinfect. D0 not mingle equipment with other areas.
- Dining areas and break rooms: Clean and sanitize surfaces daily.
- Trash and recycling: Inspect and pull as needed. Work with those managers to support their programs.
- Indoor plants: Collect debris emanating from plants, and keep away from carpeting and vents.
- Vulnerable populations: Reduce exposure to, and the use of, chemicals.
Develop a plan in conjunction with management peers and occupants in order to ensure that effective communication with cleaning personnel and supervisors occurs.
Through this plan, the cleaning service should: provide staff training and two-way communication; facilitate reduction in cleaning and treatment (e.g., spill reporting procedures); notify supervisors of cleaning products used; make a list of all chemicals; provide safety data sheets and a cleaning contact person for each building; communicate with supervisors about special needs of occupants; and have a mitigation plan.
Before cleaning independently, new hires should undergo training that is focused on proper use, handling, and procedures. And site-specific training should cover the facility’s green cleaning plan, tailored procedures, and hazards. Documented annual training should be provided for all cleaning personnel.
In summary, an effective green cleaning program should start with choosing products that have been independently certified to be environmentally preferable. But the process does not end there. The comprehensive approach to green cleaning needs to address a multitude of other factors. And a crucial step is to ensure that all possible precautions have been taken to protect workers, building occupants, and the environment.