By Armando Lezama
From the June 2018 Issue
Not long ago, launching a “green cleaning initiative” was a simple matter of switching to more environmentally friendly cleaning products. Today, going green has become a way of life for many organizations, and the drive to reduce environmental footprint and its impact on the world is an ongoing process.
For facility executives, supporting a green cleaning initiative requires a deeper understanding of what successful green cleaning means and how to achieve it. While there are many facets to green cleaning, in the broadest terms, the term refers to an organized effort that protects human health and the environment by reducing toxicity, waste, and exposure to harmful substances.
The Green Cleaning Era Is Here
According to an article in The Guardian, Stephen Ashkin, executive director of the Green Cleaning Network, a non-profit working with corporations to green the cleaning industry, estimates that 30% to 50% of corporations and institutions across the United States have implemented green cleaning.
The reasons—and the benefits—are many. For one thing, green cleaning products are less toxic and irritating to building occupants and cleaning staff. But it’s about more than just comfort. It’s about productivity.
A 2016 study by Harvard University exposed office workers to three different levels of air quality over a two week period: a typical building, a green building, and an enhanced green building. When the study concluded, participants in the green building environment reported cognitive function scores 61% higher than the typical building environment. For participants in the enhanced green building environment (with VOC levels reduced to approximately 50 μg/m3 and 40 cfm outdoor air per person), the cognitive function score was even higher: a whopping 101%.
Green Cleaning Initiative: 6 Tips
Tip #1: Adopt best practices and certified products. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to designing a green cleaning program. There are ample resources available, and these include the following.
- U.S. Green Building Council’s resources include the LEED v4 for Building Operations and Maintenance Certification Program, as well as the LEED Reference Guide for Green Building Operations and Maintenance.
- The Green Seal Environmental Certification Program has researched and published a complete set of standards for cleaning products and services.
- The International Well Building Institute is also a tool for advancing health and well-being in buildings globally.
- There are products certified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Safe Choice Program, UL’s ECOLOGO Program, ENVIRODESIC, and Green Seal.
- The International Organization for Standardization’s guidelines for Cleaning is another resource.
Tip #2: Consider everything. Green cleaning involves more than the products, supplies, and equipment used. It also means taking preventive measures to reduce the cleaning effort and keep the building environment clean. So, for example, it’s important to choose entryway matting that will prevent particulates from entering the building in the first place.
Tip #3: Engage and educate building occupants and staff. To be successful, a green cleaning program must have the support of both the cleaning staff and the building occupants. Make a concerted effort—including written communications and presentations—to explain what the program is, why it’s important, and what everyone must do to maintain compliance with a recycling program, for instance. Or, when building occupants understand how particulates in the air can adversely affect their health and how the program reduces particulates, they will be more likely to support these efforts.
Tip #4: Put everything in writing. “Green cleaning” could mean as little as using a non-toxic floor cleaner. Specify and document exactly what the term encompasses and how the program is being carried out. Create a Green Cleaning Program guide that details: standard operating procedures, training logs, maintenance logs, tracking recycling ratios, total tonnage of waste, and safety data sheets. For cleaning staff, create a Green Cleaning Process that explains procedures and how to use equipment for optimum results.
Tip #5: Don’t forget training. The use of green products can be different from conventional products, so ensure that staff has been formally trained in proper use. Many product suppliers offer training programs and software to help educate staff and ensure that proper procedures are being followed.
Tip #6: Keep innovating. New products and techniques are coming to the market regularly. It’s important to stay informed about the latest offerings and incorporate them if they meet the facility’s criteria of: sustainability, effectiveness, and value. Facility leaders may also want to consider partnering with equipment providers in order to test new prototypes and products as they are developed to ensure that the facility program stays relevant and up to date for better cleaning outcomes.
Green Cleaning In Action: Stanford University
Increasingly, prospective clients approach service providers with a clear idea of what they want from a green cleaning program. That was the case when my facility services firm, UG2, was invited to bid on a contract for Stanford University, the private research university California with a reputation for scientific excellence. The Stanford Request for Information mandated that we provide:
- A written Green Cleaning Program and Policy based on APPA Cleaning Standards and the USGBC LEED Reference Guide for Building Operations and Maintenance
- A complete description of the green methods to be used
- A description of the process to maintain and update the program
We were able to win the business by offering a value proposition that included:
- Quality control via a cloud-based system tailored to Stanford’s requirements to verify service excellence and proactive management of potential issues
- Weekly and monthly reporting, including inspection reports, red flags, quality assurance summaries, and proof of compliance
- Reliance on supplier partners to outfit the Stanford team continually with state-of-the-art equipment to improve efficiency and work quality
It is no longer onerous to adopt green cleaning, nor does facility management have to settle for less than excellent results. Supporting green cleaning is a great way to make a difference, ensuring a cleaner facility, healthier staff and building occupants, and reduced waste.
Lezama is senior director of operations for UG2, a facility services company based in Boston, MA. In this role, he manages operations for commercial and corporate industries for UG2, which provides solutions and services to the education, corporate, commercial, retail, public venue, healthcare, and life science markets. Lezama began his career with UNICCO Services Company, and he was a key member of the operations team that built an award-winning green cleaning program in addition to assisting various sites to achieve LEED-EB Silver certification.
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