By Armando Lezama
From the October 2023 Issue
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, green cleaning was gaining momentum. Concern about the environmental and human impacts of toxic products and legacy practices led facilities to pursue green certifications and use green products. While many facilities jumped on the bandwagon primarily to attract tenants, simply checking the minimum required boxes, public sentiment was clearly pushing for more in-depth and sustained efforts. And then COVID-19 hit, and all focus moved to disinfecting buildings to stop the spread. Green cleaning took a back seat. No more advances, and in fact, many declines.
But now, green cleaning is returning and moving full speed ahead. If given the option, 84% of executives¹ say they would have their facilities cleaned with green-certified products. Rather than a side initiative, it is now an essential part of corporations’ Environmental Social Governance (ESG) practices. So perhaps it’s not surprising that over 90% of the companies on the S&P 500 stock market index report on their sustainability efforts and are increasingly requiring their suppliers to report their environmental impacts as well.²
Facility services organizations need to retrain their green cleaning muscle, make up lost time, and jump into the future of green cleaning. To be successful, they should address these four key areas: training, communication, tools, and documentation.
Make Training Count
Green cleaning must be part of every training curriculum. Not only do employees need to know what to do, what products to use, and how to do so safely, they also need to be reminded that being green is a never-ending process — every time someone steps into a building they bring dirt, air particles, and other possible contaminants. They also need to realize that green is critical for the health of everyone, themselves included. It even affects cognition.
In a Harvard University study, different office workers were exposed to three different levels of air quality over a two-week period: a typical building, a green building, and an enhanced green building environment. At the end of the study, participants in the green building had cognitive function scores that were 61% higher than those in the typical building. Participants in the enhanced green environment were an astounding 101% higher.
As part of the training, make sure to teach employees how to set aggressive yet realistic expectations with tenants, particularly those who want to be extra green. Customers need to understand that they can never be 100% green, and that if they want all surfaces to shine, certain products like brass cleaners and wax, won’t make the green cut. Some of these customers also might push back if green toilet tissues and paper towels don’t provide the same quality they’re used to with non-green products. The key is to strike a balance and remember that as long as products are 90% green, the organization can still be green certified.
Clearly communicating a facility’s green cleaning practices with building occupants is also critical. Many organizations began doing this with recycling years ago. Since materials that can be recycled differ among properties and companies, facility services organizations need to make people aware of what’s expected and possible. Be sure tenant handbooks include information on green cleaning products and processes, and things like whether or not pets are allowed inside, and if they can use their own cleaning chemicals in their office space.
Keep in mind that, these days, about 65% to 70% of tenants are aware of the benefits of green cleaning and want to adhere to it. Many come with their own green cleaning initiatives and WELL certifications. This is important to them so they can show their employees that they’re taking sustainability seriously. Be open to helping these people achieve their company’s green and wellness goals.
Become The Tools Expert
New and enhanced green cleaning tools — from chemicals to microfiber rags to vacuums–are continually coming to the market. They may be more expensive and, in some cases, harder to maintain, but they always provide new capabilities. It’s the facility services team’s responsibility to stay informed about, and to evaluate, the latest advancements, as well as the latest requirements for certifications such as US Green Building Council LEED 7.3.
The best practices for keeping on top of innovations and staying ahead of the game include inspecting products at International Sanitary Supply Association (ISSA) shows and building close working relationships with green suppliers and manufacturers. Invite them to your organization regularly so you can learn in your own environment about product capabilities and roadmaps and test new prototypes as they’re developed.
Best practice is to document everything facilities services teams do via logs, including processes related to green cleaning. Keep logs on who got what training and when; how each piece of green equipment was maintained; equipment with lower than 70 decibels; recycling ratios, total tonnage of waste, equipment and consumables that were purchased; and more.
More cleaning companies are focused on creating safer, environmentally-friendly solutions that are more efficient for facility managers. Read more…
This enables organizations to prove to tenants, owners, and managers how they’re adhering to green cleaning. In some industries such as life sciences, if it’s not documented it’s considered as not having happened. Plus, by keeping all this information in a central location, facility teams will be much better prepared when recertifications come up, for instance, every three years for LEED and every month for ISO.
Green cleaning is not a fad or a marketing gimmick. At the end of the day, not only are facility services organizations going green for tenants, but also for their employees who smell and touch chemicals and are bombarded by noisy equipment. Facility executives must show they care about their staff’s health and well-being because it’s the right thing to do.
Plus, it makes good business sense. In green buildings, there are fewer people with health issues, fewer people out sick, and more people working together to provide tenants and visitors with the highest-quality facility services.
Lezama is the Vice President of Operations for UG2, and he oversees janitorial and workplace solutions services for New England customers. With more than 20 years in the integrated facility services industry, he prioritizes relationship building, client satisfaction, and five-star service delivery in all his partnerships. Lezama has been an active member of BOMA for more than 15 years, has been recognized as a BOMA Boston Affiliate Member of the Year, and currently sits on the BOMA Boston Board of Directors.
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