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The Growth of Standards and Certification in Commercial Cleaning

Written by  Robert Kravitz

Cleaning Floor

A couple decades ago, my brother, who is a teacher in Europe, was offered a six-month teaching position in Russia. He gladly accepted the position, but soon he realized that living in Russia in the late 1990s had its problems, and one of the most significant issues was eating. Not much of a cook, he had dinner out just about every night, and while he could usually find a restaurant he liked, there was a problem. It seems whenever he would return to one of his new finds—usually just a few days later—the menu and prices would have all changed. Or, he ordered something he liked one night, then ordered it again on another night, and essentially he couldn’t eat it the second time because it was so bad.

Ultimately, he found himself eating at McDonald’s every night, which was in Russia with scores of locations. The reason was simple: at McDonald’s, the prices were the same every time he went in, the quality was the same, and he could count on his entire eating experience to be the same.

So what does this have to do with building service contractors (BSCs) and cleaning? McDonald’s has a system, a set of criteria or standards they follow when making food, whether their store is located in the United States, Russia, or anywhere else. When you order something at McDonald’s, you know what to expect.

Well, building owners and managers, especially in larger facilities, are looking for the same thing when it comes to cleaning. They want cleaning contractors to adhere to certain standards and criteria so that they know what to expect. They are no longer interested in “hoping for the best” when hiring a new cleaning company. This means BSCs need to give serious consideration to the certification programs now available to the professional cleaning industry. Among the many goals of these programs is to address the needs of building owners and managers looking for consistent quality; however, as you will see, these programs offer significant benefits to BSCs as well.

What does certification entail?
A certification program is based on standards, so to answer the question, we must first define what a standard is. According to Dan Wagner, who is the director of the Cleaning Industry Management Standard (CIMS), “A standard is an agreed, repeatable way of doing something….[It provides] a basis for comparison and a reference point against which other things can be evaluated for quantitative and qualitative value.”

You likely have heard of standard and certification programs for green cleaning chemicals. These programs have established standards, which have been agreed upon by several certification organizations, which create criteria as to what makes a cleaning chemical green, what ingredients it can and cannot contain, and the performance standards it must meet, among other conditions. Further, the product must be manufactured the same way every time.

A certification program for cleaning works essentially the same way, but instead of creating standards for a product, they create standards for a service—cleaning. These standards are taught to cleaning staff, and in many cases they can apply to an individual, an in-house cleaning crew, or an entire cleaning company. Although it can vary depending on the standard and what it addresses, many of these programs were created following similar paths:

• They were developed with the help of cleaning experts, who work with cleaning crews to improve cleaning efficiencies and performance.

• Building owners, managers, and facility management associations, such as the International Facility Management Association, were brought in to get the customer’s perspective about what they want and expect from their cleaning contractors.

• Suppliers and purchasers of cleaning products were consulted to ensure the most effective and cost-effective products are used in facilities.*

Again, while it can vary, most standards and certification programs for the professional cleaning industry encompass indoor cleaning and exclude residential cleaning. Further, in most cases, outdoor maintenance considerations—parking lots, sidewalks, and so forth—are not included, with the exception of how to maintain areas directly outside a facility, such as through the installation of floor mats.

We should point out that certification is not the end of the road. Once an individual or organization has been certified, there are typically compliance procedures that need to be followed. In some cases, these are self-certification programs or peer reviews. However, some standards have much stricter compliance regulations that include independent assessors or auditors, who are called in to investigate and ensure the cleaning work performed is adhering to the standards established by the certification organization.

"Building owners and managers are looking for cleaning contractors to adhere to certain professional standards and criteria, so they know what to expect."

What’s in it for me?
Many BSCs are probably wondering at this point, why should I get certified? After all, in most cases, there are costs and time requirements involved in the certification process. According to Terry Sambrowski, executive director of the National Service Alliance (NSA), a group purchasing organization for larger building service contractors, there are several keys benefits for cleaning contractors who have been certified:

• Improved cleaning efficiencies

• Enhanced service for their customers, which “results in improved customer relations and greater customer loyalty”

• Cost reductions: “Typically, this is the result of worker training, improved worker productivity, and more cost-effective product selection”

• Ability to differentiate themselves from their competitors

• Ability to attract better—and higher-paying—clients

• Increased worker confidence and professionalism

“The bottom line is that certification demonstrates a commitment to quality and customer satisfaction,” says Sambrowski. “It gives the contractor confidence in themselves and their staff and the new customer confidence in hiring them.”
These certification organizations are also reaching out to building owners and managers, making them aware of how these programs can help them when it comes to professional cleaning. As a result, some building owners and managers are now requiring in their requests for proposals (RFPs) that cleaning contractors have certain certifications in order to even be considered for bidding on the cleaning needs of their facility. That means the value of these certifications is rapidly increasing.

Certification programs available
The following are some of the key certification programs available to BSCs. They may differ in their focus—for instance, some may emphasize green cleaning—however, most have a number of similarities in their criteria and objectives. Being certified in any of these programs should prove beneficial to BSCs.

• Certified Building Service Executive (CBSE): Developed by the Building Service Contractors Association International (BSCAI), CBSE focuses on overall cleaning efficiencies that help enhance cleaning performance.

• Registered Building Service Manager (RBSM): Also developed by BSCAI, RBSM emphasizes improving the actual operational aspects of running a cleaning contracting company. It covers a variety of issues, from customer and employee relations to government rules and regulations.

• Cleaning Industry Management Standards (CIMS): Establishes “best practices” and is designed to help BSCs increase professionalism and improve worker productivity.

• CIMS-GB: is a CIMS program, but with an emphasis on green cleaning.

• GS-42: Developed by Green Seal, has a greater focus on green cleaning procedures and products in order to develop a green cleaning strategy.

• Process Cleaning for Healthy Schools: This is relatively new program. Its focus is on standardizing cleaning procedures and processes to help enhance cleaning and improve worker productivity in K-12 schools.

Higher standards
As mentioned earlier, standards and certifications are not necessarily new to the professional cleaning industry. However, until the past few years, their target has always been cleaning chemicals, tools, and equipment. Now the same is evolving for cleaning contractors. “With certification, BSCs and facility managers alike can be assured that the highest cleaning standards will be met by the cleaning crew,” adds Sambrowski. “It’s one more way our industry is becoming more professional and more respected.”

* In most cases, certification programs do not recommend certain products, tools, or equipment. However, if the certification involves green cleaning, as an example, it will require that only green-certified products be used for cleaning but not specific products from specific manufacturers.

Robert Kravitz is a former cleaning contractor and now a frequent writer for the professional cleaning industry.

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