Green Cleaning Strategies

6 min read

By Stephen Ashkin, Executive Director, Green Cleaning NetworkProperty managers have their hands full with a wide variety of issues that affect success. From leasing requirements to property maintenance to simply dealing with residents, cleaning perhaps is low on the list of “things to do,” especially if no one is complaining. However today, “green” is everywhere […]

By Stephen Ashkin, Executive Director, Green Cleaning NetworkProperty managers have their hands full with a wide variety of issues that affect success. From leasing requirements to property maintenance to simply dealing with residents, cleaning perhaps is low on the list of “things to do,” especially if no one is complaining. However today, “green” is everywhere and perhaps nothing is easier than implementing “green cleaning.” Green cleaning has become the proverbial “low-hanging fruit.” Green cleaning is important because these approaches can protect occupant health while minimizing negative impacts on the environment. It is relatively easy to implement, both in areas under the control of property managers as well as residents’ own units. In fact, these guidelines can be shared with residents to help them better evaluate their own cleaning strategies.Why Green Cleaning?The commercial and institutional cleaning industry in the U.S. is a $500 billion industry comprised of 100,000 companies and employs over 4 million cleaning people. Each year, the cleaning industry consumes:•   8 billion pounds of chemicals most of which are made from valuable, but irreplaceable natural resources such as petroleum that may also be hazardous to both resident and worker health and can have detrimental impacts on the environment. •   4.5 billion pounds of janitorial paper products, such as toilet tissue and paper towels, most of which is made from virgin tree fibers requiring the cutting of tens of millions of trees, which affects our forest ecosystems.•   1 billion pounds of tools and equipment such as vacuum cleaners, trash cans, buckets, mats, etc., filling 40,000 garbage trucks headed to landfills. In addition, these worn-out materials are typically replaced with new products, further affecting the environment and pocketbooks.Green alternatives typically are equal to or even superior in performance compared to their traditional alternatives, reducing the potential to harm health and the environment, and today are cost competitive. Additional benefits include lower liability resulting from the use of less-toxic products and enhanced marketability of the property because residents appreciate being in a building that is conscientious of how they are affecting their health and the environment.Implementing a Green Cleaning ProgramTo make implementation easy, it is recommended that property managers follow the cleaning requirements found in popular “roadmaps” such as the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations & Maintenance Rating System (LEED-EB). Using an existing “roadmap” will allow property managers to focus resources (time and money) on implementing a green cleaning program, rather than researching the program.These industry roadmaps use consensus-based and industry-recognized standards for janitorial cleaning chemicals, paper products, trash can liners, janitorial equipment, entry matting systems and more. Because the standards used by these programs have been broadly adopted by industry, products are readily available from most local janitorial supply companies and at a price that is competitive to most traditional products.The standards cover products ranging from cleaning chemicals to paper products and trash can liners.Cleaning ChemicalsGlass, all-purpose and washroom cleaners meet the requirements of Green Seal’s GS-37 Standard or Environmental Choice’s CCD-110 or CCD-146.Hard Floor Care products meet the requirements of Green Seal’s GS-40 Standard or Environmental Choice’s CCD-147.Carpet Care products meet Green Seal’s GS-37 Standard or Environmental Choice’s CCD-148.Other chemicals not meeting the above requirements should, at a minimum, meet all appropriate local, state and federal requirements, especially as they apply to volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and carcinogens.Powered EquipmentVacuum Cleaners should meet the requirements of the Carpet & Rug Institute’s Green Label program.Floor Burnishers should include active vacuum attachments and shrouds to capture fine particles during operation.Janitorial Paper Products and DispensersToilet tissue that meets or exceeds the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Comprehensive Procurement Guides (minimum 20 percent post-consumer recycled content).Toilet Tissue Dispensers should hold large rolls or multiple small rolls to eliminate waste.Hand Towels should meet or exceed the EPA’s Comprehensive Procurement Guidelines (minimum 40 percent post-consumer recycled content).Hand Towel Dispensers should be hands-free and hold large roll towels, as opposed to multi-fold towels, to reduce paper waste and consumption.Hand Soap and Dispensers. For most public bathrooms, good old-fashioned soap and water are recommended and soaps containing added antimicrobial agents (except as a preservative for the soap itself) can be avoided except where required by code or regulation such as in food service, health care and daycare settings.Trash Can Liners. Consider not using trash can liners. If necessary, ensure that the liners meets or exceed the EPA’s Comprehensive Procurement Guidelines (which call for a minimum of 10 percent post-consumer recycled content) and are the appropriate thickness and designed to properly fit trash cans in order to eliminate wasted plastic material.Entry Mats Entry mats should be a minimum of 10 feet in length and used at all entries, excluding those doors that are only used for emergency exits.Considerations for ResidentsProperty managers can provide residents with guidance on green cleaning. While residents can shop at a local janitorial supply company and use the same specifications as identified above, most will continue to buy products at traditional grocery, mass merchandisers, etc. However, the following are some recommendations that can be offered to help residents create a healthy home.•    Use entry mats inside the front door and encourage residents to consider a “no shoes in the home” policy since most soils are tracked in on resident’s shoes. This is especially valuable for residents with small children that crawl on floors and suck their thumbs.•    Purchase and frequently use a vacuum cleaner approved by the Carpet & Rug Institute. These do a superior job cleaning and removing the smallest particles, which are the ones that can affect health.•    Pay special attention to moisture, which can lead to mold and other problems. Keep surfaces, including those under sinks dry, and if there is a leak, call the property manager immediately.•    Organize cleaning supplies so that the limited amount of time available for cleaning can be spent actually cleaning, rather than finding the mop, bucket, cleaning chemicals, etc. And when done, clean and organize the supplies so they are ready to go the next time.•    Keep kitchen areas clean to reduce the potential for pests such as ants, cockroaches and rodents. Keep food preparation areas clean to reduce the potential for bacterial contamination and do not let dishes build-up in the sink. Wash them as they are used and if using an automatic dishwasher, make sure it is full to conserve water and energy. Place powdery foods such as flour and pancake batter in plastic bags and use plastic tubs to store cereals and other dry foods. These steps will reduce the need for pesticides which themselves can potentially harm health and the environment.Stephen Ashkin is executive director of the Green Cleaning Network, an independent non-for-profit educational organization, whose mission is to accelerate green cleaning in the marketplace. Ashkin is president of The Ashkin Group LLC, based in Bloomington, Ind., and has been in the cleaning industry for almost 30 years where he has held senior management positions in leading commercial and consumer product companies. He is also co-author, with David Holly, of a guidebook entitled Green Cleaning for Dummies. For more information on green cleaning, call 812-332-7950, email [email protected] or visit

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