12 Overlooked Opportunities for Green Cleaning

May 24, 2013

Natural, affordable, effective, and environmentally friendly – green cleaning offers many benefits, but it often takes a back seat to more glitzy initiatives. Do your occupants even know that those clean bathrooms, desks, and hallways are the result of sustainable cleaning methods?

Green cleaning uses an integrated approach for custodial needs. More than just eco-friendly products, it also encompasses practices and techniques, purchasing policies, and waste reduction.

Whether your green cleaning program has been in place for years or you’re starting to make the transition, make sure to evaluate your janitorial closet from top to bottom for these hidden opportunities.

Reduce Your Toxic Footprint
A tidy workspace undoubtedly contributes to customer satisfaction, but green cleaning goes beyond appearance to address health concerns, says Y. Rene Tuchscher, chief operating officer for KBM Facility Solutions and member of the Professional Retail Store Maintenance Association (PRSM).

Your building is full of chemicals, many of which can originate from cleaning products. Bleach, ammonia, fragrances (phthalates), dyes, chlorine, 2-butoxyethanol, and antibacterial agents such as triclosan have all been shown to create various health problems. Janitorial staff and occupants alike are at risk of respiratory, skin, neurological, and endocrine issues either from direct contact or lingering vapors.

“Reduce your building’s toxic footprint by using plant-based, biodegradable cleaners,” recommends Roger McFadden, vice president and senior scientist at Business Interiors by Staples. “You’ll see returns in improved IAQ, worker productivity, and reduced absenteeism.”

Unlike organic foods at the grocery store, rarely will you find a price premium for green cleaning products. Because many of these alternatives use concentrated formulas, they are typically less expensive because packaging, water, and shipping costs have been reduced and those savings passed on to customers.

“Most green chemicals also work in cold water and require less product for the same results as traditional formulas,” says Bill Balek, director of environmental services and legislative affairs for ISSA, a cleaning industry association. “These benefits will reduce hot water demands, inventory duplication, and the rate of product consumption.”

Take Green Cleaning to the Next Level
Beyond non-toxic chemicals, rest assured that all facets of your janitorial practices have a sustainable alternative waiting to be implemented.

Not sure what to look for? Try a third-party cleaning audit, which evaluates all aspects of your cleaning procedures for areas of improvement, Tuchscher explains. These audits can serve as a benchmark, document benefits, and drive continuous improvement on a yearly basis.

As your sustainable practices grow, make sure they encompass:

  1. E-waste (computers, appliances, bulbs, printer cartridges, and batteries)
  2. Deep cleaning (carpet, window washing, drains, vents)
  3. Energy-efficient cleaning equipment
  4. Composting (food, landscaping)
  5. Hand and dish soap (kitchens, restrooms)
  6. Vegetable-based printer ink and toner
  7. Detergents for laundry and dish washers
  8. Microfiber rags, towels, and mops
  9. Ice removal
  10. Pest management
  11. Filters with high resistance (vacuums and HVAC)
  12. Walk-up and entrance mats

Even your paper products can get a green overhaul, notes Balek. Look for recycled content, bleach-free, and compostable or recyclable alternatives for toilet paper, tissues, kitchenware, paper towels, and garbage liners. Many companies have successfully transitioned to reusable plates and mugs to cut down on waste.

Day cleaning is another popular method to adopt and can save energy costs by shifting janitorial practices away from evening hours. Few companies can switch to exclusively day cleaning, Tuchscher cautions, but most find a comfortable blend between the two.

Root out products with artificially derived fragrances, McFadden advises. A “fresh” citrus or rain scent can add substantial cost without contributing to cleaning performance. Using a non-scented formula can save 20% of the product’s price tag and eliminate a few headaches too.

Don’t forget to involve your occupants, Tuchscher stresses. Use newsletters and events to toot your green horn, but strategically place signage wherever appropriate to remind building inhabitants of your sustainable practices.

“You can also create green teams to compete against each other for waste reduction,” Tuchscher says. “It creates a sense of community and puts some responsibility in the hands of tenants.”

Pit dorm rooms, departments, or floors against each other. You can even use a public dashboard in a lobby to show results or offer prizes to encourage participation.

No matter which strategies you use, make continuous improvement a priority – there are always new ways to expand and refine your green cleaning program.


Jennie Morton is associate editor for BUILDINGS.


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Jennie Morton