By Robert Kravitz, The Ashkin Group
As more and more facilities transfer from conventional to green cleaning, property owners and facility managers typically turn to their contract cleaning service for help. After all, the cleaning contractor’s staff members are the people most familiar with the cleaning procedures and products being used in a facility every day.
But how can building owners and managers be sure that their cleaning contractor is truly familiar with all aspects of green cleaning? When selecting a new cleaning contractor, how can they make sure the contractor is indeed green and not just using green as a marketing opportunity? And Green or not, how can you ensure that a contractor puts healthy, hygienic cleaning first in order to protect the health of building occupants?
We now know that green cleaning means much more than just using certified, environmentally preferable cleaning chemicals. Whether evaluating their current cleaning contractor or selecting a new one, building owners and managers should investigate three key areas to assess the contractor’s understanding of green cleaning. These areas are cleaning products (specifically chemicals), procedures, and equipment.
One of the first things property owners and facility managers should ask of a current or prospective cleaning contractor is to provide a list of all cleaning chemicals and related products used in the facility. Luckily, determining whether chemicals are truly green is now a very simple process. Authentic green products are certified by a certification organization such as Green Seal®, UL Environment (formerly known as EcoLogo), or some other respected and reputable certification body.
Cleaning contractors should also be using such green products as HEPA, high-filtration vacuum cleaners; products which often use less chemical and water than conventional options, such as spray-and-vac systems or microfiber cleaning cloths and mop heads; and automatic chemical measuring and dilution systems, which limit human exposure to cleaning chemicals and reduce waste.
Of course, while green alternatives are now available for almost all conventional cleaning chemicals, there are situations in which using a non-green product may still be necessary. An example of this is the use of disinfectants in certain specific areas of a medical facility. At this time, disinfectants can be registered with the US Environmental Protection Agency, assuring their effectiveness, but they cannot be labeled green. This issue is most likely to come up specifically for the owners and managers of healthcare facilities or when public health issues, such as the flu epidemic of 2013, are a concern.
While the first step in the evolution of green cleaning is transferring to green-certified cleaning chemicals, we now know that the way in which these products are used is also key to an effective green cleaning strategy. This is why the non-profit organization Green Seal and ISSA (the worldwide cleaning association) have developed their own “best practices” when it comes to green cleaning strategies.*
Along with proper training, some green cleaning best practice strategies cleaning contractors should be aware of include:
- Having a written plan in place as to how a green cleaning program will be implemented in a facility
- Providing cleaning workers with instructions regarding how to properly use green chemicals and products
- Communicating with custodial workers and building users as to why a green cleaning program is being implemented and its benefits
- Providing information and instructions in appropriate languages regarding how to use cleaning chemicals, or using simple graphic presentations
- Addressing the special needs of a facility; for instance, facilities that serve vulnerable populations, such as young children or the elderly, may need specialized green cleaning plans
- Validating cleaning results using rapid measurement tools such as ATP to ensure that soils and other indoor pollutants have been removed**
Some cleaning experts now believe using the proper cleaning equipment is almost as important as using green-certified cleaning chemicals. This is because many new cleaning systems use chemicals more sparingly and more effectively. Whenever less chemical—green or otherwise—is used, it reduces cleaning’s impact on the environment, which is the ultimate goal of green cleaning. Astute cleaning contractors are well aware of this fact.
A good example is spray-and-vac or dispense-and-vac style cleaning equipment referenced earlier. According to scientific studies using ATP technology**, spray-and-vac systems and similar equipment remove more contaminants and disease-causing germs and bacteria on surfaces than conventional mop, bucket, and cloth style cleaning. The reason for this is probably the vacuum process (rather than the chemicals used), which more effectively removes all contaminants after cleaning. Just as important, these systems also remove chemical residues left behind by other cleaning methods.
Hopefully, the steps mentioned here will make evaluating or selecting a green cleaning contractor a bit easier. Implementing an effective Green cleaning program means far more than just choosing the right chemicals. Make sure your cleaning contractor has a strategy in place to ensure your facility is maintained in a healthy, environmentally preferable manner.
Cleaning Chemical Labeling
Cleaning products have specific labeling requirements of which all cleaning contractors should be aware. Cleaning chemicals should be labeled with the following information:
- A list of all active ingredients in the product
- A statement of safety of use by custodial workers
- Information regarding potential damage to surfaces
- The product’s dilution rate(s)
- If the product is a disinfectant, information regarding whether it is a one-step disinfectant or if the surface must be cleaned before disinfecting
- Information regarding whether or not the product is suitable for use with no-touch or spray-and-vac cleaning systems
- Information regarding whether or not the product works in hard water
*Green Seal’s program for Green cleaning is known as the GS-42 standard. ISSA’s program is called CIMS. Green Seal and CIMS are both non-profit organizations. Contact them directly for more information.
** ATP stands for adenosine triphosphate bioluminescence. ATP rapid-monitoring systems test for the presence of organic matter (which can host harmful microorganisms) on a variety of surfaces.
Robert Kravitz is the former owner of three contract cleaning companies and a frequent writer for the professional cleaning industry. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org