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Getting Green, Shade by Shade While Keeping Your “Triple Bottom Line” in the Black

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NATIONAL REPORT—What does it really mean to implement a “green cleaning” program? Is it critical to only use green chemicals, or can other products be used? Is green cleaning an all-or-nothing proposition? Do we have to implement a complete, comprehensive program all at once, or can we phase one in over time? What role do our cleaning personnel play? And how do we identify green cleaning leaders and innovators?

The goal of the green cleaning movement is to ultimately introduce cleaning systems that effectively impact an organization’s “triple bottom line” consisting of environmental, economic and social considerations. When thoughtfully implemented and integrated, these considerations contribute to a positive, long-term financial picture, as well as a healthy and productive facility that supports sustainable products.

Step 1: Green Chemicals—The Lightest Shade of Green

Simply switching to green chemicals represents the lightest shade of green cleaning. This first step is easy as there are dozens of manufacturers who offer “certified” green cleaning chemicals that work well and are cost competitive compared to traditional products. The biggest challenge: training or retraining cleaning personnel regarding the proper product applications, mixing and dilution, and disposal.

Step 2: Green Equipment

A more intense shade of green involves introducing janitorial equipment. Manufacturers of vacuums, floor buffers and burnishers, for example, offer high-efficiency filters that can capture microscopic materials that might adversely impact building occupant health or damage sensitive equipment. Unlike green cleaning chemicals, expect to pay a premium for this equipment. Green equipment tends to be of higher quality with greater durability. The higher first cost associated with this type of equipment must be analyzed from the standpoint of its life-cycle contribution to the organization’s bottom line.

Step 3: Greener Yet—Paper Products

Recycled paper costs more than paper manufactured from virgin tree fiber of comparable quality (i.e. softness, absorbency and strength). To minimize the cost, replace multifold hand towels with large rolls and replace single roll toilet paper dispensers with dispensers that hold multiple rolls. These simple steps can reduce consumption 5 percent to 10 percent, thus offsetting the higher first cost for high quality recycled paper.

Step 4: Shared Responsibility

One of the deepest shades of green facility operations is termed “shared responsibility.” Not only do we want to make sure we are training cleaning personnel, but also empowering them, as well as building occupants, to take responsibility for their actions. Occupants should be educated regarding how their activities such as eating at their desks or leaving clutter on floors and desks affect cleaning—which, in turn, affects the health and performance of other building occupants. Policies regarding shared responsibility should be discussed with cleaning personnel and occupants, and ultimately with visitors and outside contractors, as well.

Step 5: LEED Certification

Launched last November, the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED certification program for new construction and existing buildings evaluates not only green cleaning and maintenance efforts, but also building materials and design—and systems upgrades—that ultimately impact indoor air quality, energy efficiency, water efficiency, recycling, grounds care and lighting performance.

Step 6: Social Impact—The Deepest Shade of Green

The deepest shade of green includes all of the previous steps, but also addresses green cleaning’s social impact. The cleaning industry, for example, employs approximately three million cleaning or housekeeping professionals. Many are employed as part-time workers who earn minimum-wage salaries and do not receive traditional workplace benefits.

Yet cleaning contractors, for example, find it difficult, if not impossible to compete in a business arena where the market will not support competitive worker wages. After all, businesses must be able to compete when it comes to price, as well as quality of cleaning, environmental impact and other issues.

For many facility management operations, the cost associated with obtaining the greenest of green cleaning programs can be prohibitive. But in many ways it’s essential that management see to it that certain moral and ethical standards of business conduct complement any altruistic environmental cleaning policy. Public perception and corporate image, and employee retention, while difficult to quantify—in the long run—can impact profitability to a greater degree than wage policies. Green cleaning leaders and pioneers are progressive in a number of business areas. Some facility managers in the public sector are required to include living wage and other similar provisions in their cleaning contracts, while others are doing so to reflect their organization’s corporate “values.”

Stephen Ashkin can be contacted at steveashkin@ashkingroup.com.

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