Green cleaning is gaining momentum. It is a method of cleaning and maintaining facilities that is friendly to the environment and healthful for students and staff. The process uses environmentally friendly and non-toxic cleaning products and practices that must be third-party-certified. Using green cleaning practices and products can result in numerous benefits, including a safer building, increased employee productivity and reduced facility maintenance costs.
Often, education administrators prefer to demystify this process by contracting with a facility maintenance provider that specializes in green cleaning. Because each provider is different and each facility has different needs, an education institution should find a partner that will help achieve its specific goals.
Considering green cleaning is a first step in establishing a more healthful environment. Tips to help schools find the right partner:
- Understand what it means to go green
A good first step to establishing a green cleaning system is to be clear about what the program involves and what to expect. Going green is more than just switching from a traditional cleaning chemical to a green alternative. An effective green cleaning system will seek to reduce cleaning's impact on people, as well as the indoor and outdoor environment, but ultimately it will serve to protect the health of all those using the facilities.
- Determine your reasons for going green
There are differing reasons for taking each facility green. Schools should outline what they hope to accomplish and keep those goals in mind when selecting a facilities maintenance provider. Is a school looking for safer working conditions, lower cleaning costs or lower worker insurance cost and claims?
Knowing what it wants to attain through green maintenance practices will help identify which provider will best meet the institution's goals. Throughout the selection process and even after the program has started, it's important to stay focused on the goals, benefits and accomplishments that can be derived from green cleaning.
The clearer the vision and the more informed that education institutions are on green cleaning practices, the better they can assess a provider's ability to create the ideal green facility.
- Ask for an assessment
Request an assessment of the building. This should consist of a complete inventory of the facilities' current cleaning products and equipment. This should be followed by guidance on which issues to address first and a timeline of when each item will be approached. The changes that are simple and inexpensive should be immediate priorities because of the high return on investment. Other changes should be made based on the risk of harm to both worker and occupant health, or to the environment.
- Evaluate the provider's janitorial products
Cleanliness usually is judged by outward appearance — what an area looks like after cleaning products have been applied. Green cleaning looks at more; it considers such standards as preventing indoor air pollution, and reducing toxicity and waste.
A janitorial firm should employ green products tailored to address an institution's specific needs, which can include ventilation or waste-reduction concerns.
- Request proof that a provider's products are third-party-certified
Third-party certification processes verify that products meet specific standards. This validation ensures that the products truly reduce risks to the health of users and building occupants, decrease environmental impact and work as well or better than conventional cleaning products.
- Investigate a provider's cleaning practices
How a provider uses its products is just as important as the product itself. Ask questions regarding the janitorial staff's knowledge of the products and each one's intended use. Does the provider continually educate its employees on how to use the products, as well as new products and practices in green cleaning?
- Make sure a cleaning product matches the need
Another important factor of employing green cleaning is knowing that the janitors are matching the cleaner correctly with the job. For example, using a product that is too strong for cleaning a mild stain is counterproductive and costly. An incident like this wastes the chemical cleaning product, exposes the janitor to unnecessary risk and might damage the surface being cleaned. This can happen when providers lack proper training on green cleaning products and their intended uses.
- Make sure maintenance providers are using the right equipment for green cleaning
For example, vacuuming and cleaning up dirt as it appears can reduce the need for the use of harsh cleaning products.
A school's janitorial manager should select cleaning equipment that is durable, energy-efficient and quiet. Durable equipment will not be a burden on the waste stream; energy-efficient equipment promotes conservation; and quiet equipment reduces noise pollution, which creates a healthier environment for the janitorial staff and other tenants.
Clarke is senior vice president of sales and marketing with OneSource, Atlanta, a provider of outsourced facilities services.
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