Today, terms like green building, climate change and sustainability seem to be everywhere. For architects, engineers, specifiers and others involved with the design and construction of buildings to facility managers and engineers who operate them, green certainly is an idea whose time has come.
Although there is a long list of opportunities to help the environment, green cleaning has become one of the proverbial low-hanging fruit. This is because it is easy and typically doesn’t cost more than a traditional cleaning program.
It is important to state that traditional cleaning products and methods are not “bad” and the cleaning industry is not the major contributor to global environmental problems. However, while the cleaning industry only may be a small contributor to environmental problems, green cleaning is an easy way to make an important contribution protecting occupant health and the environment.
WHAT IS GREEN CLEANING?
Green cleaning can best be understood by thinking of it as an overall approach when considering cleaning products and services. Green cleaning simply seeks to reduce negative health and environmental impacts associated with a facility’s current cleaning process while maintaining occupant satisfaction and health, as well as regulations, appearances and cost requirements.
As a simple working definition, green cleaning can be defined as “cleaning to protect health without harming the environment.” It recognizes the important role that effective cleaning products and processes have in creating healthy, high-performing buildings. What truly makes green cleaning different from traditional cleaning approaches is that it recognizes the huge impacts that cleaning has on the environment. For example, non-residential cleaning in the U.S. annually consumes the following:
• 8 billion pounds (3.6 billion kg) of cleaning chemicals, most of which are derived from nonrenewable natural resources, such as petroleum, and some of which can harm workers and occupants during use and contribute to environmental problems during use and disposal.
• 4.5 billion pounds (2 billion kg) of janitorial paper products, such as paper hand towels and toilet tissue, most of which are made with virgin tree fiber requiring the annual cutting of approximately 30 million trees, which can contribute to negative impacts on our forest ecosystems, as well as environmental impacts associated with manufacturing the virgin fiber into paper.
• 1 billion pounds (454 million kg) of supplies and equipment, including mop buckets and vacuum cleaners, that are used and disposed of each year, clogging landfills; these products further contribute to environmental impacts when they are replaced and consume new raw materials.
IDENTIFYING GREEN PRODUCTS
Whether using a contracted or in-house cleaning service, products should meet certain environmental requirements. The following requirements are taken from guidelines set forth by organizations mentioned in “Making Green Cleaning Easy."
Glass cleaners, all-purpose cleaners, general-purpose cleaners and washroom cleaners
• Green Seal’s GS-37 and/or Environmental Choice’s CCD-146
Other cleaning chemicals
• California Code of Regulations for the maximum VOCs by product category
• Green Seal’s GS-34 and/or Environmental Choice’s CCD-110 for Cleaning and Degreasing Compounds
Hand soaps and hand sanitizers
•Green Seal’s GS-41 and/or Environmental Choice’s CCD-104 or soaps and sanitizers without added antimicrobial ingredients except where required by code or regulation, such as in health-care or food-preparation areas • Alcohol-based hand sanitizers may be used in addition to soap and water but not in lieu of soap and water.
• Green Seal’s GS-40 and/or Environmental Choice’s CCD-147
• Green Seal’s GS-37 and/or Environmental Choice’s CCD-148
Paper hand towels
• Must contain a minimum of 40 percent post-consumer recycled content
• Green Seal’s GS-09 and/or Environmental Choice’s CCD-086
• Chlorine Free Products Association certification
• Toilet tissue must contain a minimum of 20 percent post-consumer recycled content
• Green Seal’s GS-01 and/or Environmental Choice’s CCD-082
• Chlorine Free Products Association certification
Plastic trash-can liners
• Liners must contain a minimum of 10 percent post-consumer recycled content and be sized properly for the trash can to minimize excess material
Vacuum cleaners • Carpet & Rug Institute’s Green Labeled vacuums
• Carpet & Rug Institute’s Bronze Seal of Approval at a minimum
• Shrouds and active vacuum attachments are required
KEEP IT SIMPLE
Green-cleaning products already are widely available from manufacturers, janitorial- supply distributors and facility-service providers, so these products are very cost-competitive compared with traditional products. Combined with an effective, systematic cleaning process, green cleaning can result in a cleaner, healthier and safer facility that also reduces impacts on the environment.
>> STEPHEN ASHKIN is executive director of the Green Cleaning Network, an independent not-for-profit educational organization whose mission is to accelerate green cleaning in the marketplace. Ashkin can be reached at steveashkin@green cleaningnetwork.org or (812) 332-7950.
MAKING GREEN CLEANING EASY During the past five years, several organizations have developed guidelines for green cleaning. Check out the following:
• Carpet and Rug Institute, www.carpet-rug.org
• Chlorine Free Products Association, www.chlorinefreeproducts.org
Environmental Choice, www.ecologo.org
• Health Care Without Harm, www.noharm.org/goingGreen
• Healthy Schools Campaign, Quick & Easy Guide to Green Cleaning in Schools, www.healthyschoolscampaign.org/campaign/green_clean_schools/guide.php
• Hospitals for a Healthy Environment, 10 Steps to Green Cleaning, www.h2e-online.org/docs/h2e10stepgreenclean-r5.pdf
• Green Cleaning Network, www.greencleaningnetwork.org
• Green Guide for Health Care, www.gghc.org
• Green Seal, www.greenseal.org
• Greenguard Environmental Institute, www.greenguard.org
• U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Design for the Environment Formulator, www.epa.gov/dfe/pubs/projects/formulat/index.htm
• U.S. Green Building Council, LEED for Existing Buildings, www.usgbc.org/DisplayPage.aspx?CMSPageID=221