(This is the second article in a two-part series of articles on green cleaning. To read the first article, click here.)
4. How well do green cleaning products work? How much do they cost? The cleaning capability of green products can best be measured by testing them in one’s facility. Still, there are reasons to believe that they hold up well when compared to traditional products. Certifying agencies, such as Green Seal, EcoLogo, or EPA’s Design for the Environment Program test products for effectiveness, besides health and environmental considerations, and only approve products with high marks. Also, the widespread adoption of such products by hoteliers and nationwide cleaning services like OneSource and UGL Unicco suggests that they must meet high standards. Another indication is that more than 100 companies now offer certified green cleaning products.
Choosing green cleaning products is not an all-or-nothing proposition. Some hotels use traditional products for some jobs and green products for others. Others use green products on a daily basis, and keep traditional products in reserve for use as needed. For example, some stains might respond best to cleaners that are more acidic or more alkaline than green cleaning products.
Do green cleaning products cost more to purchase? Some sources indicate that costs are now comparable. Circumstances vary and prices change frequently, so hoteliers should make price comparisons for themselves. Hoteliers should consider the indirect costs of these products, too. As noted above, there is some evidence that green cleaning programs reduce indirect costs by improving productivity and reducing absenteeism.
Another argument is that green cleaning results in, “reduced liability in the forms of fewer litigation dollars caused by ‘sick building’ lawsuits and lower insurance premiums, better value creation for tenants and increased property value….” An author from OneSource, a nationwide cleaning company, claims that, “appropriate, gentler cleaning and preventative maintenance keeps assets newer longer.”
5. How to convert to green cleaning products and practices. An easy and reliable way to identify green cleaning products is to review the products listed by the most respected certifying agencies, Green Seal and the Environmental Choice Program, which uses the EcoLogo certification. The list of Green Seal approved products is at www.greenseal.org/findaproduct/i&icleaners.cfm. Products that have earned the EcoLogo are listed at www.terrachoice-certified.com/en/certifiedgreenproducts/category.asp?category_id=21. A chart comparing the criteria used by these companies for assessing green cleaning products is at www.enviro-solution.com/envirosound/cleanercomparison.html.
One reason that these certifications are important is that some companies make misleading claims about the green nature of their products. When purchasers buy products certified by Green Seal or EcoLogo, they know that the products meet a very high standard. Still, some green cleaning products are not certified. There are several reasons: the product is new and not yet certified, the producers decide not to pay the considerable fee that Green Seal and the Environmental Choice Program charges, or the products are not the kind that the certifiers evaluate.
Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) are another tool that helps hoteliers decide which cleaning products to use and how to use them. For example, the MSDSs indicate which products are carcinogenic. Hoteliers could decide to use alternatives, because non-carcinogenic substitutes are always available. Similarly, when an MSDS indicates that a product contains chemicals on the Toxics Release Inventory (www.epa.gov/TRI/), hoteliers could decide not to use it.
Hoteliers should also be concerned about any product that carries a risk of severe disease or injury. They can compare the MSDSs for products that have a similar function and favor the ones that have the least harmful health and environmental impacts. It is also sensible to avoid products with an extreme pH of more than 11 or less than 2, and those with flash points below 140 to 200 degrees. The MSDSs do not list all hazards. For a more complete picture, hoteliers could call the customer service departments of the chemical suppliers.
Some MSDS forms and product labels list a product’s HMIS (Hazardous Materials Identification System) number. In this system, products are rated on health, flammability, reactivity and the need for protective equipment. It uses a 0 to 4 scale, with 0 being the safest.
Other Helpful Resources
There are several other resources that enable hoteliers to learn more about chemicals in their cleaning products. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Service’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) has information about many toxic chemicals at www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxfaq.html#p. Another good checklist is the Commonly Used Hazardous Chemicals in the PowerPoint presentation, “Implementing Safer Cleaning Chemicals,” slides 59 to 68. To find that report, go to www.enviro-solution.com/resourcecenter/technicalreports.html and click the link on 1.j.
Thus far, this section has been devoted to greener cleaning products. It is also important to discuss other products and practices associated with green cleaning. Disinfectants, sanitizers and sterilizers, used to kill microorganisms on inanimate surfaces, require particular attention. Some of them are among the most toxic chemicals available.
The EPA regulates these antimicrobials, and they register products that do not have “unreasonable adverse effects to human health or the environment.” Still, even EPA registered products are hazardous for humans and the environment. Also, some scientists are concerned that their overuse leads to bacteria that are resistant to standard antibiotics. Thus, it is recommended that hotels use only EPA-registered antimicrobials and only when necessary. According to an INFORM report, the “environmental and health impacts [of antimicrobials] can be reduced by using proper cleaning and worker protection techniques, making appropriate choices about which disinfectants are necessary under what circumstances and substituting nontoxic or less toxic alternatives whenever possible.”
Some hospitals have recently begun to use ultraviolet rays to disinfect their facilities. This non-chemical strategy may be useful for hotels, too.
Proper Training is Very Important
When hotels change cleaning and antimicrobial products, it is important to train staff on how to apply and use them, mix them, dilute them and dispose of them. Even some green cleaning products can be hazardous if not handled properly.
Vacuuming is another component of a green cleaning program. Vacuums that earn the Carpet and Rug Institute Seal of Approval (www.carpet-rug.org/commercial-customers/cleaning-and-maintenance/seal-of-approval-products/vacuums.cfm) improve indoor air quality by removing soil, reducing dust and retaining carpet fibers. Vacuums with HEPA filtration systems meet even more stringent criteria—they capture 99.9 percent of dust, pollen and other airborne particles. Some types of hard floor-care equipment excel at capturing dust, too. Hotels pay a premium for such equipment.
Entrance matting also has a beneficial impact on air quality by capturing most of the soil, dust and contaminants that are tracked into hotels on the shoes of occupants.
For a more complete description of green cleaning practices that improve indoor air quality, see the INFORM report, “Cleaning for Health, Products and Practices for a Safer Indoor Environment,” which is at www.informinc.org/reportpdfs/chp/CleaningForHealth.pdf. Chapter 2 is particularly relevant. Another good resource is the Green Seal Environmental Standard for Commercial and Institutional Cleaning Services. The complete version of this document is at www.greenseal.org/certification/cleaning_services_gs_42.pdf. The summary version is at www.greenseal.org/resources/gs42_one_pager.pdf.
Another aspect of a facility’s green cleaning program is the paper products it buys. Hotels save trees and reduce environmental toxins when they purchase unbleached, recycled-content paper. Green Seal and EcoLogo certify paper products that meet their high standards.
Recycled-content paper often costs slightly more than paper made from virgin tree fiber. “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,” says Stephen Ashkin, president of the Ashkin Group.
There are other ways that cleaning programs reduce waste: by using reusable cleaning cloths or microfiber technology instead of disposable paper products, removing trash liners only as needed, purchasing recycled-content trash liners, recycling the waste from their operations and using energy efficient hand dryers rather than paper towels.
The Business of Green Cleaning, by Stephen Ashkin and David Holly. This document is “designed to help facility managers and others make a successful, trouble-free, and uncomplicated transition to a green cleaning program. The book features scores of practical green cleaning tips and a collection of 25 public- and private-sector green case studies from around the world.” It can be purchased at www.ifmafoundation.org/programs/pubs.cfm.
Cleaning for Health: Products and Practices for a Safer Indoor Environment, Alicia Culver, Marian Feinberg, David Klebenov, Judy Musnikow, Lara Sutherland, INFORM, Inc., 2002, www.informinc.org/reportpdfs/chp/CleaningForHealth.pdf.
Green Cleaning, A Roadmap for Implementation, Steve Ashkin, Executive Director, Green Cleaning Network, http://www.facilitiesnet.com/webcasts/details.asp?id=14982. This is a free, 75-minute webcast.
GS-42 Green Seal Environmental Standard for Cleaning Services, First Edition, September 1, 2006, www.greenseal.org/certification/cleaning_services_gs_42.pdf.
Managing Housekeeping Operations, American Hotel & Lodging Educational Institute (EI), www.eiacademic.com/productview.aspx?id=21146&terms=Managing+Housekeeping+Operations. See the chapter on green housekeeping.
Dan Ruben is Executive Director, Boston Green Tourism. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.