Sustainability Color Coding For The Cleaning Industry

Helping facilities implement and manage a system is a great opportunity to provide extra value for clients.

The Santa Monica Seafood company is virtually a landmark in Santa Monica, California.

Founded in 1939, this family-owned company has weathered all kinds of storms, from wars to economic ups and downs, and yet survived.

The family behind the company says its longevity is due to many things but most important is putting the interests of its customers and the products it sells first.

To this end, Santa Monica Seafood has adopted a color-coding system for its products that is in line with Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch color-coded program.

This system assigns a particular sustainability color code to each seafood species depending on how plentiful the species is.

The system uses four colors, which designate the following:

GREEN = Best Choice. This refers to a species that is plentiful.
YELLOW = Good Alternative. This denotes a species that may serve as an alternative to one that may be in trouble of surviving.
RED = Avoid. This designates a species that is in danger or on the endangered list developed by the Seafood Watch team.
GREY = Unranked. This refers to a species that has not received a ranking by the Seafood Watch team.
Santa Monica is one of America’s most environmentally sensitive cities.

For its seafood shoppers, this color-coded system makes it quick and easy to select those species that are plentiful and not endangered and to avoid those that are at risk of dying out.

This is yet one more example of how an effective color-coding system can prove beneficial.

The healthcare industry, here and in Europe, has pioneered the use of color coding, mainly to help protect staff and patients and to prevent the spread of disease.

And in our own industry, color-coding has proven to be effective as well.

It helps overcome language barriers and helps cleaning professionals identify which products and tools should be used to clean what surfaces, which are to be used together, and in some cases, which are to be used for which cleaning task.

However, like in the seafood industry, what we are now witnessing in our own industry is the use of color-coding to help promote sustainability, to curb the use of natural resources or to help use them more responsibly and to help facilities reduce operating costs.

And because this color-coding system will likely be put into practice by custodial workers, it also will help elevate our profession and its importance, not only in keeping buildings clean and healthy, but in helping them operate more efficiently and cost-effectively as well.

Color Coding In The Cleaning Industry

While there are no set rules and regulations, a color-coding system that is often used in the professional cleaning industry uses these colors to identify the following:

RED: Products or tools used to clean restrooms and specifically toilets and urinals.
GREEN: Products or tools designated for food service areas.
YELLOW: Tools and products used to clean sinks or counters in restrooms or other common areas.
BLUE: Products used for low-risk cleaning, such as desks and common-area surfaces.

As an example, all the tools used for restroom cleaning — such as cleaning cloths, mops, buckets, chemicals and so on — would have a red marking of some kind on them that is readily noticeable.

You can see how this easily recognized color-coding system can help promote safety, facilitate training and result in more effective cleaning in the professional cleaning industry, especially as our industry is now one of the most multilingual industries in the U.S.

A color-coding system is also used in “group cleaning” programs that were developed more than a decade ago.

For example, with these programs, a red dot on a door casing tells the cleaning worker that the door is to remain locked, even if the cleaning worker is inside; a green dot indicates a door is to remain closed but not locked; and so on.

Dots are also placed on power sources to indicate which outlets allow maximum reach when using a vacuum cleaner but that will not interfere with power sources for computers or more delicate electronics.

A Sustainability Color-coding System

A sustainability color-coding system operates in much the same way as all the other systems discussed so far.

They are all designed to convey information quickly and effectively.

However, just as there is some training required for using these different systems, some learning is also needed for a sustainability color-coding system to work effectively.

It’s also important to note that because there are no regulations in place for a sustainability color-coded system in our industry, this system is most often implemented successfully when it is forged by both building managers, custodial workers and building users.

The following is an example of a typical program:

A RED dot is placed on those electrical sources and devices that should be powered off at the end of the workday and on weekends.
A GREEN dot is used for those electrical sources/devices that are to be left on no matter if the facility is being used or not; this most often would apply to security lighting, for instance.
A BLUE dot is used for those items that should be powered off only on weekends and holidays.
Often the color YELLOW is used to designate “caution.” Yellow tells the cleaning professional that he or she should ask building managers or users whether the source/device should be turned off or not after business hours.
GREY may be used to designate a power source or device where no determination has yet been made, telling the custodial worker that he or she is to just leave the item alone at this time.
In order for the system to work effectively, building managers and cleaning professionals will need to take a little time deciding what actions (and which colors) should be applied to each power source/device.

For some power sources/devices, the determination will be quite easy.

For instance, most lights should be turned off at the end of the business day, so in most cases a red dot will suffice.

But for other power sources/devices, the determination will not be so easy.

What color and which actions should be used for a vending machine, for example?

Vending machines are often overlooked when it comes to reducing energy demands, and yet they are in fact one of the largest users of energy in the typical office environment.

One vending machine can use more than 400 watts of power annually, and at 12 cents per kilowatt, that can run more than $400 per year.*

In most cases, if the vending machine stores candy and related products that can be stored at room temperature, a red dot should be posted on the machine (turn off at the end of the workday/on weekends).

However, if the machine stores cold drinks, because of the large amount of energy these machines require to bring drinks to a cold temperature, placing a blue dot (turn off only on weekends/holidays) would be the most sustainable route to go.

The Future In Sustainable Color

Like many things, when a new idea or concept is first introduced, it is often met with some resistance, or at the very least, confusion.

It’s likely this occurred when Santa Monica Seafood implemented its color-coding system for fish or when color coding systems were first developed for healthcare facilities and for group cleaning.

While introducing a sustainability color-coding system in our industry may elicit some resistance and confusion, what we are witnessing now, especially in large offices and similar facilities, is a much greater focus on sustainability than ever before.

As this awareness grows and evolves, it’s quite likely that many of the facilities you now clean and maintain will want such a system in place as part of their sustainability plan.

And helping facilities implement and manage such a system provides a great opportunity for cleaning professionals to provide extra value to their clients.

*This kilowatt charge is the average kilowatt charge in the United States at this time, but this charge can vary.

Stephen P. Ashkin is president of The Ashkin Group, a consulting firm specializing in greening the cleaning industry, and chief executive officer (CEO) of Sustainability Dashboard Tools, which offers a cloud-based dashboard that allows organizations to measure, report and improve their sustainability efforts. He is also coauthor of both The Business of Green Cleaning and Green Cleaning for Dummies.