As part of its plan to operate in a greener, more sustainable manner, a property management firm decided to transfer from selecting 100 percent virgin fiber copy paper to copy paper made with 100 percent recycled content. The cost difference was negligible, the brightness and weight were similar, the copies came out fine, loading paper into the copy machines and printers was exactly the same as when using the original virgin fiber paper, and there were no changes to actually making copies or when printing. I wish transferring from conventional cleaning products, tools, and equipment to those that are environmentally preferable was this easy.
In some cases, green cleaning products are used in essentially the same way as older conventional cleaning products. But, there can be—and often are—differences.
This can be a serious problem. Green cleaning products are chemicals and just like any chemical if they are improperly used, there can be adverse impacts to both health and the environment. Unfortunately, I am finding that many custodial workers do not always use environmentally preferable cleaning products correctly. And, not using the products correctly can not only cause potential harm, but it can also defeat the two primary goals of green cleaning (besides the cleaning itself):
•Reduce cleaning’s impact on cleaning workers, building users, and the environment.
•Create a high-performing, healthy building that helps enhance worker productivity, improve staff morale, and reduce absenteeism.
Proper custodial training in the use of new green cleaning products will help make sure these goals are met. It often requires that facility managers, working with cleaning staff or contractors, re-evaluate the entire cleaning program, processes, and methods used in their properties to see what is working and what needs improvement. Plain and simple, transferring from conventional to green cleaning is often far different than transferring from conventional to recycled copy paper. And because only 10 percent of the cost of cleaning is tied to products with 70 percent to 80 percent tied to labor, it is imperative to get the training done correctly.
Vendor as Trainer
In most cases, the vendor, distributor, or rep providing the green cleaning products to the facility is the same person(s) who provides the training. And once again, many of these suppliers do an exceptional job. I have known distributors that work 9-to-5 and still meet with custodial workers late at night to train them on the proper use of cleaning chemicals, tools, and equipment. One reason they do this is because they know property managers and cleaning contractors have many different ways to select and receive cleaning products today, green or otherwise. The key way these distributors can prove their value to clients is through add-on services, such as custodial training.
However, far too often these training programs fall short, and by digging just a bit deeper the reasons become obvious. Most of the training that distributors receive is on how to sell cleaning products, not necessarily on how to use them. Further, many distributors have little experience training others. Therefore, in most cases, the distributor will know the value of the green cleaning product they market as well as its features, benefits, and applications, but actually using the product in a real-world situation may be foreign to them.
Then there is the money issue. Time is money for distributors and sales people. While some, as mentioned earlier, will meet with cleaning workers during the day or late at night for training, in most cases, the more time distributors and sales people spend training workers on how to use the green cleaning products, the less time they spend making money. What often happens is that the distributors provide what can best be termed an “overview” on how to use the cleaning products; however, overviews and thorough, proper training are not the same thing.
Finding an Effective Green Cleaning Trainer
Property managers and cleaning contractors can enlist the help of an effective green cleaning trainer, who might be a vendor, distributor, or sales person selling green cleaning products. It may take a little time and due diligence to find this person, but if the objective is to reach the goals of green cleaning, as discussed earlier, it is time well spent. Property managers and cleaning contractors should consider the following when selecting a trainer:
•Evaluate the training materials the trainer provides. One obvious thing to look for is if the material is written in the language of the custodial workers. The professional cleaning industry throughout North America is very multilingual. Also, check to see that the training materials are not marketing materials. While some of this information may be very good, when a company’s marketing department prepares training materials, the emphasis is typically on selling the product and not using it.
•Find out if the trainer has experience and is well-versed in training—custodial training, in general, and specifically green cleaning training. The trainer must be knowledgeable about cleaning and using green cleaning products. Further, some trainers are comfortable and effective when teaching a group of people—it is what they like to do and they do it well. But as referenced earlier, this is often not the case.
•Did the trainer walk-through the entire facility and evaluate current cleaning procedures? Transferring to green cleaning, as mentioned earlier, is a perfect time to reevaluate all cleaning operations in the facility. An effective trainer often can instruct cleaning workers on more effective, efficient, and cost saving ways to perform their tasks.
•Can the trainer provide effective training on products other than those they sold to the facility? Because cleaning is a process, the trainer needs to be able to train the cleaning workers all the way from properly diluting the chemicals, to their hazards, and proper use. But it doesn’t end there. They must also be prepared to train them on how to properly select and use a mop or other applicators, especially if using a greener alternative such as a microfiber flat mop has its own method of use which is quite different compared to a traditional string mop. And the cleaning process may also include the use of vacuum cleaners or floor machines, all of which the trainer must be capable of teaching the cleaner workers.
•Does the trainer pre- and post-test cleaning workers? Tests help people learn and can play a vital role in an effective green cleaning training program.
Finally, look for a trainer who realizes the role of cleaning professionals has changed over the years. Cleaning workers do not only perform cleaning duties. For instance, in more and more cases, cleaning workers now partner with property managers and look for ways to reduce energy and water consumption, helping facilities operate more efficiently and contribute to the overall health of all building users. This contribution not only helps green the facility, but it can help building owners save money as well.