The Connection between IBM Typewriters and Green Cleaning

Back in 1961, IBM introduced the Selectric typewriter. Although IBM knew it was a fine machine, the typewriter was pricey and nobody was sure how well it would be received.

Well, it turns out office workers all over the world soon clamored for the Selectric; it was the iPad of its day. Waiting lists were common—even into the 1970s. In time, no modern office or company worth beans could operate without an IBM Selectric.

Fast-forward a good 40 years, and many office workers may never have even used a conventional typewriter. Computers, laptops, tablets, and other devices have replaced typewriters. And no one is going from today’s computer technology back to typewriters.

So what does this have to do with Green Cleaning?

Users were not originally clamoring for Green Cleaning products, but they have now become the norm in offices, schools, and other facilities throughout North America. And although few people make a big deal about Green Cleaning, as they did the IBM Selectric, it is unlikely indeed that a facility would transfer back to the conventional cleaning chemicals used years ago.

Today, most environmentally preferable cleaning products are as good as or superior to conventional cleaning products. And costs have come down to the point that most are comparable or simply cost neutral.

And Green Cleaning products are evolving and improving. Among other advancements is the expanded interest in chemical-free cleaning systems, where equipment, tools, and cleaning processes are able to clean surfaces effectively without the use of any chemicals. As this technology evolves, this could prove to be the ultimate in Green Cleaning, which as we know is cleaning to protect health without harming the environment.

As to cleaning products specifically, I believe we are starting to see some significant improvements in Green floorcare products. It is unfortunate, but many of the most effective ingredients used in floorcare chemicals are not only the most harmful to the environment, they have proved to be the most difficult to replicate in Green form. But advances are being made, and just as with most environmentally preferable cleaning products, end users find these latest products to be significant improvements over those introduced just a few years ago.

There is something else evolving, not specifically about Green Cleaning but is a result of Green Cleaning. Custodial workers are expanding their roles in many of the facilities they maintain. They are working directly with managers to help make facilities not only Greener but more sustainable, identifying areas where managers can reduce waste, energy use, water consumption, etc. In the long term, facilities will be healthier and operate more efficiently as well.

Stephen P. Ashkin is president of The Ashkin Group, a consulting firm specializing in greening the cleaning industry and CEO of Sustainability Tool LLC, an electronic dashboard that allows organizations to measure and report on their sustainability efforts.  He is also coauthor of both The Business of Green Cleaning and Green Cleaning for Dummies.

Ashkin has worked in the cleaning industry since 1981 and has held senior management positions in leading consumer and commercial product companies. He began his work on Green Cleaning in 1990 and today is thought of as the “father of Green cleaning”. For more information, visit