Services & Maintenance: A Green Sweep

By Stephen Ashkin
Published in the January 2008 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

Spartan Chemical Co. Theuse of cleaning products that have been certified as meeting thirdparty environmental requirements helps to ensure the health and safetyof both occupants and staff. (Photo: courtesy of Spartan Chemical Co.,Inc.)


Tenyears ago, “green” was barely discussed by facility managers—except aspossibly the color of a new carpet. Oh, how much has changed!

Climatechange and sustainability are terms frequently seen in today’s massmedia. Major consumer product companies have taken to the airwaves toadvertise their new green products. Legislatures at the state and locallevels are increasingly passing provisions for green buildings. Andenergy as a cost and security issue continues to grow as a seriousnational concern.

As a result, many building occupants arepaying more attention to the issue than ever before, which isaccelerating the demand for green products and services in everycategory. While facility managers (fms) have a long list of issues toaddress in this realm, one of the “low hanging fruits” is greencleaning. Cleaning is a large expense, typically ranging from 80¢ to$2.25 per square foot, and it is an expense that has to be managed (andoften reduced). How cleaning is executed is often the cause of manyoccupant complaints.

Green cleaning can be an enormouslycost-effective strategy for an organization, since it is already partof the facility budget and it frequently doesn’t cost more than thetraditional program it is replacing. Furthermore, it can help typicalfacility occupants understand how green strategies can directly affectthem in ways that are often difficult to explain when installing aphotovoltaic array, a geothermal heating and cooling system, avegetative roof, or other green technology at a building.

What Is Green Cleaning?

Fmscan best understand green cleaning by thinking of it as a concept, oroverall approach, when considering cleaning products and services. Theconcept is that green cleaning seeks to reduce health and environmentalimpacts associated with the cleaning process while meeting thefacility’s performance and cost requirements.

Green Cleaning (Photo: ISTOCK PHOTO)

A simple working definition of green cleaning can beexplained as “cleaning to protect health without harming theenvironment.” It recognizes the important role that cleaning products,along with effective cleaning processes, have in creating healthy, highperforming environments—which result in increased worker productivity,decreased absenteeism, improved student performance on standardizedtests, and other positive performance metrics.

But what trulymakes green cleaning different from traditional cleaning approaches isthat it recognizes the huge impacts that cleaning has on theenvironment itself. For example, non-residential cleaning in the UnitedStates annually consumes:

  • Eight billion pounds of cleaningchemicals—most of which are derived from valuable, non-renewablenatural resources such as petroleum. Some of these chemicals can harmworkers and occupants during use and contribute to environmentalproblems during both use and disposal;
  • Four and a halfbillion pounds of janitorial paper products (e.g. paper hand towels andtoilet tissue), most of which is made with virgin tree fiber requiringthe annual cutting of approximately 30 million trees. With this comesthe risk that many of those trees are harvested in an unsustainablemanner, which results in long-term negative impacts on forestecosystems. There are also the environmental impacts associated withmanufacturing the virgin fiber into paper; and
  • One billionpounds of supplies and equipment (e.g. mop buckets and vacuum cleaners)are used and disposed of each year (enough to fill 40,000 garbagetrucks). And making new products requires the extraction of rawmaterials, results in emissions to air and water along with the energyconsumption to manufacture those raw materials into finished products,and requires transportation throughout the supply chain.

Again,it is worth stating that the goal of green cleaning is not to suggestthat cleaning or the cleaning industry are “bad” or the majorcontributor to global environmental problems. This, of course, ishardly the case. However, cleaning plays an incredibly important rolein protecting public health. In general, facilities and occupants wouldbenefit if the amount of cleaning was increased. So while the cleaningindustry may not be the largest contributor to environmental problems,it is a huge industry. Fortunately, it has become easier for fms topurchase cleaning products and services that can make a difference inprotecting health and the environment while leading to a moresustainable future.

Why Should Fms Care?

Fmsshould consider green cleaning for two simple reasons. The first isbecause it is a large budget item. The national average for cleaning isapproximately $1.50 per square foot in a Class A commercial building.Today, green cleaning can be an excellent opportunity due to itstremendous return on investment.

Green cleaning practices can also extend to the outside of the facility Green cleaning practices can also extend to the outside of thefacility. The products chosen for exterior maintenance affect thenatural environment in which the building is sited. (Photo: courtesy ofSpartan Chemical Co., Inc.)

Increasing demand and competitive forces have resulted inlower costs for green products, which now perform comparably totraditional products in almost every category. Thus, benefits are had,and risks to worker and occupant health are reduced with no increase incost in most product categories.

The second and perhaps morepowerful reason for adopting green cleaning is marketing. Today, manybuilding occupants want to do the right thing and be part of anorganization that is making a difference. Oftentimes, it can bedifficult for an occupant to understand or make a personal connectionto a green strategy being implemented in their building.

Thus,one of the greatest strengths of implementing green cleaning is that itis simpler for occupants to understand how a greening initiative candirectly affect them. It can affect their health, their families, andthe environment. These are all good things and help to demonstrate whyother green building initiatives are valuable.

Inaddition, when marketing a building or the organization as a whole, fmsare not only communicating with current occupants through tools such asnewsletters and signage, but they are also marketing the facility toprospective future occupants and other stakeholders. Green cleaning isa very simple program that most people not only “get,” but that theyvalue. Wouldn’t most people prefer to work in, shop in, or manage abuilding focused on creating a healthier setting with a lowerenvironmental impact?

Following The Green Cleaning “Roadmap”

Spartan Chemical Co. Whileareas dedicated to food preparation or healthcare may require productsand processes that go beyond general green cleaning requirements, thereare options on the market. (Photo: courtesy of Spartan Chemical Co.,Inc.)

Over the past five years, a number of organizations in avariety of building segments have developed guidelines for greencleaning, which has made it easier for fms to research what are theelements that constitute a green cleaning program. Using theseguidelines as “roadmaps,” fms can spend their time implementing theprogram, rather than researching it.

Fms can find guidancefrom many sources, including the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED forExisting Buildings rating system; Hospitals for a Healthy Environment’s10 Steps to Green Cleaning; the Healthy Schools Campaign’s Quick &Easy Guide to Green Cleaning in Schools; and “Green Cleaning forDummies,” a Wiley Publication [co-authored by the author of thisarticle] and distributed by the International Sanitary SupplyAssociation, which has compiled the “roadmaps” from these otherresources.

Identifying Green Products

Whether afacility is using an outside or in-house cleaning service, the decisionmakers should consider the following specifications for their greencleaning products. These requirements are taken from the “roadmap”sources mentioned earlier, and they can be added to an existingcontract without making wholesale changes to the document itself.

Chemical Cleaning Products

  • Glass cleaners, all purpose cleaners, general purpose cleaners, andwashroom cleaners should be listed under Green Seal’s GS-37 and/orEnvironmental Choice’s CCD-146.
  • Other cleaning chemicals notcovered by Green Seal’s GS-37 should be listed under the CaliforniaCode of Regulations for the maximum VOCs by product category, or underGreen Seal’s GS-34 and/or Environmental Choice’s CCD-110 for Cleaningand Degreasing Compounds.
  • Hand soaps specified should belisted under Green Seal’s GS-41 and/or Environmental Choice’s CCD-104,or should be those without added antimicrobial ingredients except whererequired by code or regulation (e.g. healthcare or food preparation).
  • Floor care products should be listed under Green Seal’s GS-40 and/or Environmental Choice’s CCD-147.
  • Carpet care products should be listed under Green Seal’s GS-37 and/or Environmental Choice’s CCD-148.
  • Additionally, managers can look for products in various categoriesdeveloped in partnership with the U.S. Environmental ProtectionAgency’s Design for the Environment (DfE) Formulator Initiative.

Paper Products

  • Paper hand towels should meet one or more of the following criteria:must contain a minimum of 40% post-consumer recycled content; be listedunder Green Seal’s GS-09 and/or Environmental Choice’s CCD-086; andhave Chlorine Free Products Association certification.
  • Toilet tissue should meet one or more of the following criteria: mustcontain a minimum of 20% post-consumer recycled content; be listedunder Green Seal’s GS-01 and/or Environmental Choice’s CCD-082; andhave Chlorine Free Products Association certification.
  • Additionally, all paper products should be derived from rapidlyrenewable fiber sources (trees that mature in less than 20 years, suchas bamboo or eucalyptus) or non-tree fiber sources (e.g. switch grassor wheat straw).

Plastic Trash Can Liners

  • Liners should contain a minimum of 10% post-consumer recycled contentand be sized properly for the trash can to minimize excess material.


  • Vacuum cleaners should be a Carpet & Rug Institute’s Green Labeled item.
  • Carpet extraction equipment should have earned the Carpet & Rug Institute’s Bronze Seal of Approval (at a minimum).
  • Floor burnishers should feature shrouds and active vacuum attachments.

Greencleaning is happening in more and more organizations, and it is here tostay. Following these simple roadmaps makes it easier for fms toimplement the practice.

And, because these product standardsare widely available from manufacturers, janitorial supplydistributors, and facility service providers, they are cost competitiveto traditional products. These products, combined with an effective,systematic cleaning process, can result in a cleaner, healthier, andsafer facility while reducing its impact on the natural environment atthe same time.

Ashkin is founder and president of TheAshkin Group, LLC and is often thought of as “the father of greencleaning.” His consulting firm works internationally with facilitymanagers to implement green cleaning practices. For more information,call (812) 332-7950, or visit on the Web.

Have you switched to green cleaning? What has been your experience? Send comments to