The ROI of Going Green

March 26, 2012
CFOs are beginning to recognize that sustainability initiatives are not just about being green – they are about smart business. Sustainability is a practice that helps businesses meet their bottom lines and protect physical and human assets. Over time, sustainable options often cost considerably less.

CFOs are beginning to recognize that sustainability initiatives are not just about being green – they are about smart business. Sustainability is a practice that helps businesses meet their bottom lines and protect physical and human assets. Over time, sustainable options often cost considerably less.

Despite the positive progression toward adoption of sustainable practices in the workplace, there is a lingering misconception that becoming sustainable is expensive. To help support the c-suite as they debate this change, facility managers should take a closer look at easy ways to implement sustainable practices and solutions throughout their facilities – from cleaning solutions to furnishings to technology – as well as the value delivered.

Cleaning Checklist

When becoming sustainable, the first step should be to implement a green cleaning policy. Now a mandatory step for obtaining Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification, this type of cleaning policy helps ensure that environmentally preferable cleaning chemicals and practices are employed throughout facilities, which helps protect the environment, building interiors and human assets (employees and building tenants). When selecting environmentally preferable cleaning products, look for those that are Green Seal or Design for the Environment (DfE) certified.

At first glance, environmentally preferable cleaning solutions appear to cost more than their traditional cleaning counterparts. However, in most cases, they cost less in the long-term. Look for all-in-one cleaning solutions that can be used across the corporate campus on floors, countertops, desks, windows, mirrors, etc. Additionally, if possible, invest in multi-use, highly-concentrated products. These will last longer, and it will require less of the solution to clean the surface area while introducing fewer chemicals into the workplace. An added benefit is streamlining the cleaning process from requiring multiple products and steps to just one product in a single step, making tasks more efficient and freeing your staff’s time for other projects.

Furthermore, traditional cleaning products tend to consist of more stringent chemicals that require the use of protective gear − such as rubber gloves and face masks – and can take years off the life of facility flooring and furniture. By selecting sustainable cleaning solutions that are less harmful to interior surfaces, as well as to employees and building tenants, facility managers will save on costs for protective gear and furnishings replacement. In addition, keeping employees out of contact with harmful substances that can cause illness or harm will keep them healthier, at work and out of the doctor’s office, which could otherwise result in increased healthcare premiums and diminished productivity.

However, there is one crucial step facility managers must take before any of these policies can be implemented: question all new products before introducing any of them into your facility. This will allow anyone to make informed decisions about which products can address the primary areas of cleaning concern while maintaining a more sustainable building.  Make sure to ask:

  • Are the active ingredients listed on the product label? 
  • Is the product safe for daily use by housekeepers and custodians?
  • Will the product harm or damage surfaces?
  • What is the dilution ratio of the product being considered?
  • Is the product a disinfectant, a one-step disinfectant-cleaner or a sanitizer? 
  • Is the product effective in hard water?
  • What is the end-use cost of the product?

As an aside, facility managers and the c-suite should look to partner with suppliers who also practice sustainability. Suppliers that are committed to this are likely to provide multiple solutions to meet each of your sustainability goals. For example, they may use reduced packaging for their products, equating to a decrease in costs associated with waste removal for your business.

Breathe Deeply

Selecting sustainable cleaning solutions also contributes to improved indoor air quality, a great concern given that Americans spend 90 percent or more of their time indoors. By using environmentally preferable cleaning solutions, fewer harmful gases will be released into the air.  To further reduce the amount of chemicals released into the indoor air, apply the product from a spray bottle or aerosol can directly onto a microfiber cloth or wiper instead of onto the surface you are about to clean. This is a free and easy way to minimize the amount of indoor air pollutants.

Another easy way to improve indoor air quality and protect human assets, in addition to utilizing environmentally preferable cleaning solutions, is to select interior furnishings that have eliminated volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as formaldehyde. Instead, choose those that contain safer materials like water-based finishes and/or zero-VOC paints. The products you choose to outfit your office – how they are made and how they perform over a lifetime – will be critical.

Whether you select new or remanufactured furnishings for your facility, always look for third-party certifications to ensure that the products are certified. For instance, GREENGUARD-certified products improve indoor air quality while reducing individuals’ exposure to chemicals and other pollutants. Scientific Certification Systems (SCS) is another third-party that defines and certifies products with low VOC emission levels.

Future Considerations

As the workplace changes and CFOs realize that sustainability is an essential business practice in the 21st century – and necessary to recruit the next generation workforce − understanding the true value of sustainable practices and the benefits will be key for facility managers worldwide. They will be crucial to eliminating hazards, liability issues and inefficient technologies before they’re introduced into the workplace and implementing truly sustainable practices across facets of the business.

Mark Buckley is Vice President of Environmental Affairs, Staples, Inc.

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