Considerations For Green Cleaning

(Photo: Thinkstock)

By Danette Reliford
From the September/October 2015 Issue

Sustainable business practices have moved from a “nice to have” to a “must have.” To many, the term sustainability means being environmentally responsible but it encompasses much more. Sustainability is the delicate balance of meeting current operational needs without compromising future generation’s ability to do the same. For facility management, this means ensuring building and occupant health and well-being, without harming the environment.

One impactful way facility leaders can reduce the natural resources their organizations consume is to invest in green cleaning practices and programs. These types of programs are rooted in the concept that cleaning programs and procedures should provide a safe facility while reducing and/or eliminating damage to the environment.

A proactive facility maintenance plan combined with a green cleaning program presents a host of benefits, including the well-being of employees and other occupants, cost savings, and enhanced brand equity for the facility and the organization overall.

Employee Well-being. Improved employee health is one of the most important outcomes of a green cleaning program. Studies have shown that regular exposure to chemicals can cause health problems, including eye, skin, and respiratory irritation and allergies. Using environmentally friendly products or eliminating chemical usage reduces health and safety concerns for workers. In addition, ergonomically designed products reduce risk of strain or injury associated with many cleaning activities. Decreased health risks lead to less absenteeism from staff and fewer injuries. Processes and procedures associated with green cleaning programs help improve worker efficiency, ultimately leading to increased productivity.

Cost Savings. A sustainability program that includes green cleaning should not be any less effective at cleaning than traditional products. However, green cleaning programs reduce resource usage including chemicals, energy, and water. In addition, they often lead to improved employee satisfaction and productivity that also introduces cost savings through efficiency.

Enhanced Brand Equity. Green cleaning programs indicate that a facility is conscious of its impact on the environment and is engaging in environmentally responsible practices. Increasingly, people have come to expect both businesses and facilities to be environmentally responsible and do not look favorably on those who choose not to engage in sustainable practices.

Planning The Transition

The benefits of a green cleaning program are clear, but developing and launching one may not be as simple. For facilities wanting to ensure their green cleaning programs pass the test, first and foremost it is important to ensure that programs protect the health of employees and other occupants without harming the environment.

There are a few key principles that facilities should abide by to help ensure the most effectual green cleaning programs possible.

The Right Process. There are a host of factors that should go into deciding the most appropriate process for a facility’s green cleaning program. Facilities should consider the most appropriate process based on the facility’s needs, size, function, staff, and available resources.

The Right Training. Changing behavior is one of the more challenging aspects of implementing any new process or protocol. A new green cleaning program can only be as effective as the people who are responsible for adhering to it. Appropriate training on new policies, processes, and products is essential to program success.

The Right Products. Choosing the best products for a green cleaning program can be overwhelming. Many products promise green cleaning benefits, but it is important to consider their functions and purpose before determining their role within a program. For example, some products will make cleaning tasks more efficient, while some products will reduce risks for workers and others will reduce water and chemical usage. Consider a facility’s most pertinent needs and the products that will be most beneficial for meeting them.

A green cleaning program should be customized based on the facility’s goals, needs, and capabilities. Following these three principles will help to ensure an effective, successful program.

Green Cleaning In Action

The Hospital Israelita Albert Einstein (HIAE) in São Paulo, Brazil, a private, 674-bed hospital with nine ambulatory clinics, is one of the most highly respected healthcare institutions in Latin America and well-known for its commitment to environmental responsibility. In 2010, the new Vicky Hall and Joseph Safra Pavilion received LEED Gold certification. At the time, Antonio Carlos Smudge, director of Works and Israeli Infrastructure Benevolent Society Brazilian Albert Einstein, said, “The hospital program presents additional challenges for LEED certification, for the technical and safety requirements are very strict and the demand for water and energy, higher than in other programs, such as offices and schools.”

Hospital Israelita Albert Einstein (HIAE) in São Paulo, Brazil (Photo:

HIAE wanted to explore new ways to improve cleaning performance and productivity while preserving resources and decided to test a microfiber focused green cleaning program on one floor of its Morumbi campus.

During a three week period, HIAE tested a microfiber based system—the HYGEN Microfiber System from Rubbermaid Commercial Products—against a control method that used conventional cleaning methods (disposable cloths, spray bottles, ladders and “hands and knees” cleaning) for water and chemical usage, cleaning time, employee satisfaction, and customer satisfaction. The goal was to determine whether the microfiber system would be the right process and product for their facility.

This microfiber system has scrubbers embedded in its microfiber cloths, a feature that removes 99.9% of microbes, including C. diff, based on third-party testing using water only. The system enables chemical free cleaning, and microfiber helps reduce overall water usage and is designed to enable faster cleaning.

The results of the testing at HIAE showed the microfiber system was a viable green cleaning program, demonstrating significant improvement in sustainability while maintaining cleaning standards and patient satisfaction.

In terms of cost reduction, the HIAE test program found a 99% reduction in water use. Meanwhile, the presence of harmful chemicals poses risks for human health and the environment. Control of chemicals in a hospital setting is important to minimize infection risks to patients and employees, as well as to prevent harm to the surrounding community. The testing at HIAE showed a 47% reduction in total chemical consumption for terminal cleaning and daily cleaning.

Labor benefits from the microfiber system use included nearly 30% less time for terminal cleaning efforts (from one hour and five minutes down to 47 minutes). Meanwhile, the hospital reported a 19% reduction in daily patient room cleaning (from 16 minutes to 13 minutes per room).

Employee well-being was also found to be improved. The test reduced the hospital’s REBA (Rapid Entire Body Assessment) ergonomic risk score from a nine, “High Ergonomic Risk,” to a three, “Low Ergonomic Risk,” to healthcare workers. Heavy lifting and repetitive motions that lead to musculoskeletal injury were reduced or eliminated.

Meanwhile, HIAE found increased employee satisfaction, with 82% of respondents indicating they preferred the newly implemented system.

The hospital has since expanded its implementation of the microfiber based green cleaning program to 10 of its facilities. Combined with the appropriate training and processes, this product proved an ideal solution for HIAE’s sustainability needs.

As green cleaning programs evolve from being an option to a necessity for many, facilities need to be strategic about the programs they implement. Facility managers should apply the right process with the right training and the right products to ensure the most successful green cleaning program for their organizations.

green-cleaningReliford is a senior brand manager with Rubbermaid Commercial Products with a background in science based industries and expertise in the cleaning category of products.

Do you have a comment? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below, or send an e-mail to the Editor at