By Carlos Albir Jr.
The phrase “green cleaning” often refers to the strategic use of environmentally responsible products to maintain facilities. While these eco-friendly products are certainly part of a green cleaning program, the concept has evolved to encompass much more than just product selection.
True green cleaning involves minimizing harm to the environment while protecting the well-being of employees and guests. Facilities can achieve these interrelated goals by addressing the products and processes they use to clean and examining the production methods and corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives of manufacturers. Any change to a cleaning program that supports sustainability and safeguards human health and safety — at any stage of the supply chain — can make a positive long-term impact.
Embracing Sustainable Products, Processes
Greening a cleaning program involves answering the questions of what and how. To do so, facility managers can review cleaning products and processes.
First, take stock of every tangible tool used in your cleaning program to find opportunities to improve environmental responsibility and safety. Determine if your floor care equipment, such as brooms, autoscrubbers and vacuums, dustpans, mops and mop buckets, will help meet heightened expectations of cleanliness. Consider durability and design, which can extend the lifespan of these assets and ultimately limit waste. Assess if current cleaning chemicals may be negatively impacting human health or indoor air quality — some solutions contain compounds that can cause symptoms like eye or skin irritation, headaches or allergic reactions.
To find products compatible with a green cleaning program, make use of free resources like the Safer Chemical Ingredients List from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Seek out third-party certified options with a stamp of approval from reputable organizations like the National Floor Safety Institute, Green Seal®, and UL.
Then, assess the processes in place. Do you understand how to clean effectively and consistently without creating risk? It is crucial to develop and execute processes that align with the facility’s specific needs while at the same time considering the impact on the environment and people. “People” encompasses both the professionals who carry out cleaning tasks and the occupants and visitors of your facility.
Additionally, provide comprehensive training to cleaning staff to ensure they follow the processes you’ve defined. Compiling expert guidance into a custom training program is ideal. For instance, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration offers guidance for cleaning professionals and the EPA outlines six steps for safe and effective disinfection. Cleaning staff should also understand the importance and definition of green cleaning to underpin everything they do. This can add a “why” component that motivates teams to do their best work.
It is worth noting that a cleaning program leveraging sustainable products and cleaning processes can ultimately help operations achieve facility-wide certifications such as those offered by the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED program or the Global Biorisk Advisory Council’s GBAC STAR™ accreditation. LEED certification confirms that a facility functions in a resource-efficient way and enhances occupant wellness, while GBAC STAR accreditation affirms proper and safe cleaning, disinfection, and infection prevention methods are in place. These can compound green cleaning credibility.
Look Beyond Facility’s Four Walls
When assessing a product intended to be sustainable, it is useful to evaluate the environmental costs of production and transportation as well as the manufacturer’s CSR practices. The EPA recommends engaging with manufacturers who “use innovation … to go beyond compliance.”
There are creative ways to produce environmentally friendly and effective cleaning supplies. For instance, some manufacturers construct mop heads from reclaimed textile waste and brushes and brooms from plastic bottles and caps that would otherwise end up in landfills. Certain chemical manufacturers maximize the use of ingredients that lower risks to human health and indoor air quality, such as hypochlorous acid. Assessing how products are made can reveal how sustainable they really are.
Look for cleaning product manufacturers that care for their workers, customers, and communities. Their CSR efforts can help demonstrate their commitment to people and the planet (the same two P’s that green cleaning supports). For example, some manufacturers provide meals, education, or on-site healthcare to employees. Others commit to ambitious environmental goals, whether it be reducing waste, air pollution, carbon emissions, or all of the above. The American Cleaning Institute recently began to push for cleaning product manufacturers to “align their corporate climate strategy and targets with the 1.5°C ambition, which strives to reach net-zero global emissions by 2050.” Find manufacturers that help make this goal a reality.
A Fuller Picture Of Green Cleaning
Experts on sustainable cleaning are optimistic that demand will continue to accelerate. Given the amount of resources that the cleaning process consumes, the present is always an opportune time to reassess current cleaning practices and discover ways to be greener. By carefully considering the products and processes used and the way their suppliers operate, facility management leaders and their staff can help protect the environment while safeguarding occupants and staff.
Albir is Director of Operations at ABCO Cleaning Products, a leader in sustainable cleaning tools. ABCO is a family-owned, Certified Minority Business Enterprise with Green Seal certified products, headquartered in Miami, FL.