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Green Cleaning vs. Greenwashing: 8 Tips to Choose the Right Provider


It’s not just a fad, eco-friendly cleaning has become an important aspect of a facility’s care. Effective products, equipment, and techniques have now been around long enough to demonstrate impressive results: safer, healthier environments inside and out.

To get the most from a green cleaning program, it pays to hire an experienced facility services provider. But how do you sort out the facts from marketing fiction – also known as “greenwashing”?

  1. Know Why You’re Going Green
    What are your priorities? Whether you’re looking to create safer working conditions, discourage absenteeism, acquire LEED certification, increase property value or be a good corporate citizen, prioritizing a list of goals will help you focus on finding the right program. An expert provider will work with you to set key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure progress against benchmarks.
  2. Know the Basics and Ask the Provider to Educate You Further.
    You don’t need to be an expert, but you need to ask the right questions. A company with years of experience can share best practices they’ve learned in serving their many clients in a variety of settings. Ask them to share their success stories—you may see similar opportunities at your facility. This can also help determine how much experience they have with your specific type of property and business.
  3. Ask for an Assessment.
    By taking a holistic look at your facility, a full-service provider will probably find opportunities to go green in places you never thought to look – and some opportunities may come at little or no extra cost. For example, switching from night cleaning to day cleaning (if appropriate in your environment) saves on lighting bills, which can defray other costs.
    An assessment would include an inventory of current cleaning practices, an evaluation of recycling opportunities, and an understanding of your facility (who uses it, how, and when). The service provider can guide you on which issues to address first and suggest an implementation timeline. Changes that are quick and inexpensive should be at the top of the list due to the high return on your investment. Other decisions should be based on risk – is there immediate danger to the health of janitors and/or occupants, or to the environment? Other items, especially those requiring a larger investment, can be put into a phase-two program.
  4. Evaluate Cleaning Products.
    Of course everything should look and smell clean. But the products should also solve unseen problems, such as indoor air pollution and waste. Request proof that the provider uses third-party certified, environmentally safe cleaning products. For example, Green Seal is a non-profit organization that tests products for health risks, environmental impact, and effectiveness. Be sure to look at the cost versus the return: changing to green cleaning products can even be cost neutral!
  5. What Equipment will be Used?
    Durable equipment saves money in the long run and lessens the burden on the waste stream. Efficient equipment uses less energy and gets the job done quicker, and quiet machines reduce noise pollution. Examples include: The Carpet & Rug Institute’s Green Label vacuums, high-speed burnishers with active vacuum attachments that capture fine particles, carpet extractors and automatic floor scrubbers that reduce water consumption, microfiber cloths and mops, and entryway matting systems.
  6. Ask about Cleaning Practices and Employee Training.
    The products and equipment are key but won’t do much good if improper techniques are used. Do janitors know each product’s intended use, including proper dilution with water? Cleaning a mild stain with a strong product can waste the product and possibly damage the item. Something as simple as spraying glass cleaner on a cloth rather than on the mirror itself reduces airborne vapor particles that irritate lungs. Proper dwell time of a product increases its effectiveness, and using a designated mop (color-coded, for example) in bathrooms reduces cross contamination. Are employees well trained, well supervised, and evaluated? Are they employees of the facility services company or subcontractors? If subcontractors, how are training and quality monitored?
  7. Explore Advanced Options.
    If you have the budget for taking your program to a higher level, ask about coreless restroom paper and dispensers, low-flow and high-efficiency plumbing fixtures, and an electrolyzed water system to produce your own cost-effective, gentle but effective cleaning solutions.
  8. Does the Provider Offer Other Services in a Cost-Saving Bundle?
    An integrated facility services company can handle a full range of facility needs –from drought-tolerant landscaping to an eco-friendly roof under one contract. You can select from a menu of services or choose a holistic, customized package that takes the entire facility services burden off you, so you can focus on your business.

Employing these tips should simplify the process of choosing a facility services partner. Keep in mind that each provider has its own set of skills, and look for one truly capable of helping your facility achieve its green goals.

Bob Clarke is Senior Vice President, Sales for ABM.

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