When thinking holistically about sustainability in buildings, “green cleaning” should be included along with your energy and carbon management programs. This article discusses the history of “green cleaning” and key success elements for facilities, the procurement and verification process.
One reason it is important to consider “green cleaning” activities is that ONE accident or chemical spill on the evening news could hurt your facility’s “green” image, even if you have saved a ton of energy!
In addition, applying green cleaning practices is worth LEED points and can help you attain a higher level LEED certification for a very small cost… and in some cases, an operational savings.
Green Cleaning Saves Money
Even small steps like installing better door mats can make a difference - If they trap more dirt, less chemicals and cleaning supplies are needed (saving money). If there is less dust in the air, HVAC filters will last longer. Static pressure in ducts can be reduced, which will reduce the energy used by motors.
Maintenance and duct cleaning costs can also be reduced. It may be hard to quantify all of these savings, but they are worth mentioning as the average person can understand the domino effect of dirt. Most parents can also understand that there is a “right” way to clean and a “wrong” way, which consumes far more resources.
Green cleaning involves more than just materials (mats, cleaners, etc.). It involves processes too! I can think of several janitorial processes that were not very energy-conscious.
For example, in one facility, the night janitors would begin cleaning classrooms around 10pm, when the halls were vacant. When completed with a classroom, the janitors’ process was to leave all the lights “on” in that room to signal the supervisor that the room was ready for inspection. However, the inspection might not occur until several hours later. Merely changing this process saved a bunch of energy.
In contrast, on another campus, the janitors were heavily involved in energy management, leaving notes to teachers that left their lights “on” at the end of the day. If a teacher got 3 notes in a month, the principal was notified! Just this simple process allowed that school to save a lot of energy and money.
So the term “green cleaning”, can mean a lot of different things.
The Evolution of Green Cleaning
Over the past decade or so, there has been a bottom-up effort by businesses working to claim “Green” business or facility status. The process started out as a homemade effort that was often as simple as buying some Green cleaning products and manufacturing your own Green logo for the website… and it worked, for a while. Frankly, it was so simple that everyone seemed to invent their own version of a Green janitorial program.
Like so many other early inventions, the process matured; and many of the self-asserted ideas were usually proven to be self-serving and not always as represented. Looking back to this time, it was obvious that this was not the best of times for the integrity of the Green movement.
The next era was the “buy it online” program that seemed to add credibility to a firm because a larger brand was associated with the Green claims. Unfortunately, there was never any true validation by an outside source. Well-accomplished websites popped up weekly on the Internet eager to collect fees for supplying a self-assessment form and a downloadable logo.
With greater frequency, we are now watching the third generation of Green business programs. RFPs are asking for a “Green certification” from applying firms. This has been a promoted concept from such sources as the EPA with its Environmentally Preferred Purchasing program.
The “Green Clause” is now being heavily promoted by businesses and facilities across America for inclusion in all RFPs and contracts. Basically, the idea is that a third party is needed to verify that the facility being considered has gone through some form of training or verification process. Below is an example of the “Green Clause” within a procurement process:
“In harmony with the EPA’s ‘Environmentally Preferred Purchasing,’ we (require/prefer/desire) that all bids submitted include an independent Green Certification of the company, products, or workers required via the proposed contract. Green certification refers to the operational aspects of the company often referred to as ‘Green Practices.’ Self-assertion of environmental merit does not resolve potential greenwashing concerns. Therefore, a company demonstrating an environmentally credible operation by an independent review shall be a minimum requirement for all vendors, suppliers, and business relationships.”
The evolution of facility certification is similar to the emergence of the Underwriter’s Laboratories credential that electrical items need. As evident from the Gulf oil spill, companies rarely fail their own evaluations, and janitorial services never admit imperfections. Frankly, expediency has short-circuited the quality that consumers expect. The rise of the Green Clause in RFPs will eventually put an end to some of the early, flawed Green promotions.
Beyond Green Janitorial, the principles of the Green Supply Chain create a demand on companies to improve the packaging and shipping programs. Other elements, like “LifeCycle Analysis,” require a company to look upstream for the environmental impact of what happens before the company takes possession of any goods or services. Environmental groups press an agenda of social justice and fairness, wherein the ethics and extended influence of a company will be measured.
Larger companies are feeling the pressure to develop a thorough program of review for their green and sustainability plans. Medium and smaller companies will eventually follow suit.
Green Cleaning is Getting Serious
Every industry, including the janitorial business, must embrace the trends in the market. The trick is to identify the trends that pay benefits rather than waste time. For the past 20 years having a good green image continues to progress towards being a “pre-requisite” to doing business.
So, the tide is turning, and it will not go back to where it once was. Green and sustainable businesses invest thousands of dollars to install Green practices and develop sustainable programs. Green clause RFPs are a real part of “Green Ethics.” These changes show that participating businesses expect that same from their vendors and suppliers, and it is a big part of the Green Supply Chain theory.
If you haven’t run across the Green Clause yet, you may very soon. Aggressive attempts by government, industrial leadership, and Green certification firms are making the Green Clause a serious issue for all companies/facilities that are determined to be Green and sustainable in an honest and forthright manner.
For janitorial suppliers, it may be wise to be a few steps ahead of your competitors. Forward thinking janitorial firms will resolve their authoritative Green certification and promote the use of the Green Clause. Like others have found, getting the terms of the RFP or contract requirements to eliminate the competition, while allowing your firm to shine bright, is not a misuse of the opportunities. Few companies can gear up quickly to put the Green certification in place in the time constraints of the RFP.
While some see the Green clause used in RFPs as a threat, others will find it an opportunity to differentiate themselves and improve their service while providing the kind of service that helps all businesses, the community, and successive generations.
There can be little doubt. “Green cleaning” should be included along with your other energy initiatives and priorities.
R Michael Richmond is a leader at the Green Clean Institute in Plainfield, IL.
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