Green and Sustainable Cleaning Solutions As We Look Ahead This Earth Day

By David Holly, The Ashkin Group

The cleaning industry is large and diverse. It’s been estimated that we use over 8 billion pounds of cleaning chemicals in the United States every year to clean the facilities we maintain. When you consider the resources in raw materials and production, distribution and disposal; the actual consumption is probably closer to 80 billion pounds. It’s also been estimated that we use the equivalent of 27 million trees to produce the janitorial paper we use every year. Whether this comes from actual trees, scraps or other virgin sources, the impact is significant. Finally, we send almost 10,000 dump truck loads of janitorial equipment to landfills every year.

Looking Ahead to Earth Day

Image source: Microsoft Office Images

I don’t mean to imply we are doing “bad” things or should be ashamed of our industry – quite the opposite. I think we should be PROUD of what the cleaning industry is doing to make a difference in the health and safety of building occupants, the people who provide these services and the environment. As an industry, we have recognized our potential impacts on people and the environment and have taken significant steps to reduce and minimize these impacts.

Janitorial paper products are readily available with more than 30% post consumer recycled content. In fact, full lines of products are available with 100% recycled content, and these are almost identical in touch and feel to those made with virgin fibers. At the same time, the use of chlorine to bleach these fibers is being reduced. We should make our customers aware of what we are doing in this area and encourage suppliers to continue to explore these and additional alternatives – for example using rapidly renewable grasses to create janitorial papers.

On the product side, we have much to celebrate as well. A completely new category of cleaning products has emerged – chemical free cleaning systems. These systems use water – modified with electricity, heat or other methods – to effectively clean and even sanitize a variety of surfaces. Micro fiber cloths and mops are being used to mechanically remove contaminants from the indoor environment, again reducing the need for chemicals, and reducing potential impacts to the line employee, building occupants and the environment.

But, this is NOT to say chemicals are bad. In fact, we need to use a variety of chemicals to effectively clean and protect our indoor environments. The manufacturers of these products have embraced Green Cleaning and are developing and marketing a wide variety of products that effectively remove indoor contaminants without introducing new contaminants themselves. This new attention to reducing impacts has led to a variety of new technologies and products that are safer for the people who do the cleaning, building occupants and the environment. We need to encourage manufacturers to continue to produce these cutting edge products by purchasing and using them to create safer and healthier indoor environments.

Equipment manufacturers are also demonstrating that they understand the need for more environmentally responsible solutions as well. Auto scrubbers that convert plain tap water into effective cleaning solutions, “no-touch” cleaning solutions that use water and protect the worker, and steam cleaning solutions among others are pioneering an entirely different way of cleaning. Other suppliers are developing tools that rely on mechanical rather than chemical solutions to remove floor finishes. Finally, we are seeing new equipment that is more ergonomic, easier to use, and tools that reduce training time and requirements. These are early days, but forward thinking manufacturers are designing a future that is not only Green but Sustainable.

As we look ahead this Earth Day, we need to look beyond the product we can hold in our hand and consider the entire supply chain. If you sell products – look at the manufacturers you buy from. What are they doing to promote a sustainable supply chain? How do they source raw materials or sub-assemblies? Is their manufacturing facility an example of sustainability? How do they move raw materials and finished goods? What are YOU doing to be more sustainable? Have you looked at your energy, water, fuel consumption? Have you considered your delivery methods, schedules, vehicles, and routes? Do you or your suppliers have a take back program for used equipment or other supplies?

Contractors, are you evaluating the energy and water consumption of the equipment you use in your clients’ facilities? Have you thought about how to organize and schedule your work to minimize the use of lighting, HVAC and other energy requirements? While day-time cleaning may not be effective, there may be other options working with facility management to schedule and reduce energy loads. Are your suppliers Green? Do they “get” sustainability and are they working with you to maximize and promote sustainable cleaning?

Are you tracking, measuring and reporting the results to your clients and prospects? How about to your employees? Do they understand the direct relationship between what they do and how that impacts your company, your prospects, your clients, and the environment? There are tools being developed to make this an easier exercise – chances are your customers and prospects will be asking for this information soon – and later will be requiring it. Now is the time to get started.

Obviously, there are many things we can do to continue to become Greener in our cleaning efforts and move toward Sustainable Cleaning. At the same time, we need to be sure we are educating and communicating with our clients and employees and then celebrating our successes. So, did you do something different or interesting for Earth Day this year? Are you willing to share it with the readers of DestinationGreen?

If so, we’d really like to hear from you. Please feel free to send us an email to: