Seven Steps to Cleaning Green

By Chad MacDonaldThe green, eco-friendly model has transformed from a movement on the margins to a true market force in the real estate industry. Sustainable building practices and LEED certification are becoming development industry standards. And residents are demanding environmentally sustainable buildings and operational practices in greater numbers than ever before. For multi-housing owners and managers, adopting green practices is an essential step to retaining residents, improving operating costs and ensuring the long-term financial stability of the property. This article will demystify the process of implementing a green cleaning program by offering useful tips on sustainable facility maintenance.  Why Clean Green?For many building owners and operation managers and professionals, the process of going green can be overwhelming at first. Owners and operations professionals that own and manage existing buildings often wonder, “What can we do to go green since our building has already been built?” Much of the focus on sustainable building seems focused on the development of new, green construction. However, practical solutions do exist for owners and managers looking to retrofit their facility with green-friendly products and processes. One of the most productive methods for going green is to adopt an eco-friendly cleaning program for your building.Information on green practices is easier to find now than ever before. However, the challenge for many building owners and managers is separating the best information for a facility’s specific maintenance needs from the overwhelming amount of green information online and elsewhere. Multi-housing owners and managers seeking to clean green need to first learn what it means to be green and what steps can be taken, both large and small, to get there. The first step is frequently the most difficult to take given the often overwhelming amount of information available from a variety of sources. The seven tips listed below are designed to help multi-housing owners and managers start the process of cleaning green.1.  Separate “green wash” from truly green practices and products In order to create a plan with reasonable and achievable goals, a building owners and managers must truly understand what it means to be green. Going green is more than a marketing ploy or what is sometimes referred to as “green wash”—the practice of large corporations claiming green-friendly practices for marketing purposes but not following through on these claims.  Legitimate green processes are real solutions to real issues that can improve your facility’s bottom line and the health of your staff and the building’s residents. Research must be done to gain an awareness of green marketing versus real green programs. Once you can separate good green information from the bad, you can then select the good information that can meet your operational needs and tenant expectations.  You can then construct a plan with achievable goals that yield positive results for your unique situation.  2.  Outline your goals for the green cleaning programOne of the hallmarks of legitimate green, eco-friendly and sustainable programs is that each situation is examined holistically and within a larger context. In order to determine solutions to problems and outline your green program’s short and long-term goals, assess your building holistically. Identify ways in which your building cleaning process is negatively affecting your entire building. Find the problems and then outline the solutions. Determining your ultimate goals up front will provide a framework for your green cleaning initiative and will prove essential to its success.3.  Seek third-party assessments of your goals and current cleaning practicesWith the proliferation of green information has come an explosion in organizations offering green assessments and certifications. You need not go it alone—do your research and find a third-party to evaluate your green cleaning goals and current cleaning processes. You can do a good amount of assessment on your own, but it is always helpful to enlist expertise and alternate opinions to ensure success of your green initiative. 4.  Dream big, start smallOnce you have assessed your situation, consulted with third-party green experts and established your overall, big-picture goals, take a step back. Diving in and going full-board toward reaching all of your green goals as quickly as possible is not always the best path. Enthusiasm is powerful if tempered by patience. Roll out your green cleaning program slowly and deliberately, starting with small and simple improvements that methodically build toward your larger, overall goals for the program. It is a fact: simple improvements yield big results not only for your bottom line, but also for your efforts to satisfy residents requests to live in a greener environment. If you commit to rolling out green cleaning practices on a regular basis, residents will feel you are acting on their requests and will not feel overwhelmed by sweeping changes implemented all at once. Some simple green cleaning solutions include implementing a recycling plan for the building or using vinegar and water as an excellent substitute for cleaning finished wood floors and windows.5.  Make sure your employees and/or the cleaning contractor is using the right mechanical equipmentThe equipment used during the cleaning process should be quiet, durable and, most importantly, energy efficient. Energy efficiency promotes conservation of valuable resources and can help reduce operational costs over the long term life of a facility. Again, a true and legitimate green cleaning program covers all the bases. Why purchase better cleaning products if the machinery being used causes higher costs and environmental damage? Better green processes and products will only yield full benefits if the right, environmentally friendly equipment is used as well.6.  Educate employees, contractors and residents about green cleaning products and practicesAssess your employee, contractor, and residents’ knowledge of green cleaning products and their uses.  Make sure all parties with a stake in the process understand how to use each product and the practices of green cleaning.  Simply providing green cleaning products is not enough; the people doing the cleaning and those living in this new environment must be taught how and in what situations green products should be used. Obviously, green cleaning cannot be performed without green cleaning products, but it is the combination of the right product with green-educated stakeholders that will engender the best results.7.  Create an internal communication plan for your green initiativeEducating your staff, contractors and residents about green products and practices will ensure proper implementation of your green program. However, a strong communication plan that emphasizes the benefits employees, contractors and residents will enjoy from the green program is the key to long-term success of your initiative. Before you launch your green cleaning program, you will need to spend some time promoting your efforts and educating key participants in the program. The key is to initiate the education process before the green cleaning program is implemented and to have a plan to keep the green program top-of-mind over the course of time. Chad MacDonald is president & CEO of Dulles, Va.-based ServiceForce, a provider of facility services and management programs. ServiceForce currently manages more than 15,000 customer locations throughout North America. MacDonald was the driving force in the acquisition and consolidation of over 100 janitorial, electrical and mechanical companies with more than $2 billion in revenues. His email address is cmacdonald@serviceforceusa.com.