Green cleaning – how not to muck it up
Green cleaning is fast becoming a lost opportunity for improved performance and efficiency, unless facility managers learn how to specify, monitor and promote it correctly.
Bridget Gardner, director of Fresh Green Clean, Australia’s leading consultancy in sustainable cleaning practices, details how.
In 2008, when the term ‘green’ represented all things innovative and modern, the facilities sector witnessed a growth spurt in environmentally responsible products and services – commonly called ‘green cleaning’. In response to client demand, cleaning service providers and manufacturers invested heavily in sustainable products and equipment, albeit with varying degrees of credibility and effectiveness. Voluntary ‘eco- label’ standards for green cleaning chemicals evolved alongside this market, offering procurement managers third-party validation of claims.
A LOST OPPORTUNITY
Fast track to 2014 and, despite the requirement to supply ‘green’ cleaning products and consumables written into most cleaning contracts, the demand for eco-label certified products has slowed significantly. The potential a green cleaning program has to create efficiencies and engage with cleaning operators is being lost, as are the benefits to building occupants via cleaner air, improved hygiene and low toxicity. Why is this and what can you do about it?
Cleaning standards start and finish with the client, via the contracts used to procure the services and the way they are managed. I have identified five characteristics of this process that prevent the delivery of more sustainable outcomes:
● Vague. Unless standards and certification codes are specified, it opens the door to the plethora of products carrying unsubstantiated or false green claims (called green washing).
● No follow-up. The specs may be strong, but no monitoring took place to ensure correct supply at commencement and ongoing compliance during the contract life.
● Prescriptive. Specifications often stipulate the use of chemicals that fall outside the scope of many eco-label standards, or contradict the sustainability requirements written in another section of the contract.
● Risk averse. A lack of willingness to take risks excludes innovations that fall outside the certification standards for chemicals, and limits the full scope of green cleaning.
● Limited. Limiting the scope to green products misses the bigger picture, such as daylight (dayshift) cleaning, waste management, controlled-dose dispensers, training and engagement.
COMPLIANCE IS COMING
The Green Building Council of Australia’s (GBCA) new Green Star – Performance (GSP) rating system for building operations has set credits for Green Cleaning Management. This will require building owners/managers to have active policies that demonstrate how green cleaning is being implemented and monitored. As with all Green Star rating systems, cleaning products will need to be certified to ‘approved’ standards, which, in turn, need to comply with strict criteria. Unsubstantiated and irrelevant claims, or labels featuring happy frogs, will not make the grade.
While GSP will drive compliance, Fresh Green Clean’s Green SASH program (Safe and Sustainable Hygiene), due to be pilot trialled in late 2014, will help facility managers to achieve it. A suite of subscriber packs offer online monitoring and planning tools that are designed to comply with the Green Cleaning Management credit, and guides to green cleaning programs.
FOUR STEPS TO A GREEN CLEANING PROGRAM
Four elements that form the bedrock of a successful green cleaning program are: policy, procurement, engagement and monitoring. Below are some practical guidelines extracted from the Green SASH program that will help you to prepare for GSP and gain greater value from green cleaning.
● Policy. Top down commitment to green cleaning from the building owner/tenant is essential. Develop a sustainable procurement policy for cleaning services that incorporates existing sustainability and well-being policies, and describes procedures to implement the points listed below.
● Procurement. The following four – pronged approach can be used in the specifications and contract tendering process, to establish clear standards, while encouraging a sense of ownership and continuous improvement:
● Define measurable outcomes in the specifications, in terms of cleaning performance for each task, and methods of achieving environmental, health and hygiene outcomes. For example:
- residual chemicals on surfaces shall be minimised via the use of accurate chemical dosing or chemical-free methods, and
- high standards of surface hygiene shall be achieved via the supply of clean cleaning cloths, and effective handling and laundering processes.
Non-prescriptive scope of works
Describing the tasks and frequencies and related outcomes. For example: wipe clean durable furnishings using an approved product
● Approved eco-label standards that cleaning products shall be certified to. The following samples are found on cleaning products sold in Australia (note – this is not exhaustive and the GBCA’s criteria may differ):
- GECA Standard 17-2012 for Cleaning Products
- recognised ‘Environmental Credentials Scheme’ by ACCORD, the Australasian hygiene, cosmetic and speciality products industry association, and
- Green Seal Standard GS-34 for Cleaning and Degreasing Agents.
● Tender schedules for proposing methods to achieve the specified outcomes, and listing products and the standard/s they are certified to for each cleaning task. This list is then evaluated against the specifications and used for ongoing monitoring purposes.
● Engagement. Engage building occupants in the program by promoting the benefits to their health and environment, to mitigate potential concerns about low-fragranced green chemicals or cleaners working during office hours.
Consider investing in accredited competency training for cleaning personnel now that government subsidies have been pulled, or specify at the tendering stage:
- CCPCMN3001B – participate in environmentally sustainable work practices, and
- CCPCMN4002B – implement and monitor environmentally sustainable work practices
● Monitoring. On going monitoring of cleaning and sustainable performance is essential. Audit the cleaner’s room for how well the processes achieve the green cleaning outcomes, defined in your specifications. The chemicals may be certified, but if the dose is not controlled and the cloths are soiled and soggy, your green cleaning program will fail.
If daylight cleaning is in place, monitor the energy saved via reduced lighting. If desk bins are removed, monitor the bin-liners and time saved. Green cleaning is no different to any other green marketing claim – it must be demonstrated before it is of value. Monitoring the outcomes will allow you to up-sell the benefits, include the results into your organisation’s sustainability reporting, and be ready for GSP.
When a green cleaning program is embraced by the whole organisation, the results are incredibly positive. After a recent project I conducted at a leisure centre, the cleaners now feel they are doing something important and feel valued. The resultant pride in their work has improved their performance. Visitor complaints are way down and the manager’s workload has reduced.