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The Green Clean Report

Written by  Lisa Kopochinski, Services Editor

Green cleaning is no longer just a buzzword; it is now a way of life. For too long, we have heard how poor indoor environmental quality has had a major impact on business and our daily lives. And we know that the choices we make in cleaning products, equipment, systems and procedures affect our economy and our health.

As Steve Ashkin, president of the Ashkin Group—a consulting firm that specializes in greening the cleaning industry—notes, green cleaning is not about simply replacing your current product with a milder cleaner. It is about examining your entire process of cleaning, identifying the areas that can be improved, developing plans and procedures, and measuring the results. 

Many companies are implementing successful green cleaning initiatives because they know that having such a plan in place will not only have a positive impact on their customers and employees, but the bottom line as well.

For example, in 2009, Kimberly-Clark Professional, one of the largest manufacturers of washroom products in the world, serving commercial institutional facilities such as office buildings, hotels, schools, healthcare facilities, manufacturing plants and other public buildings, launched Reduce Today, Respect Tomorrow, a program that represents the company’s philosophy of reducing the use of natural resources throughout the lifecycle of its products.

The company said that this big-picture approach helps it design products to eliminate waste from the start. That is, products are created with source-reduction in mind and are designed so that users consume less, either through improved performance, more reliable dispensing methods, or both. If less is consumed in the first place, it often means there is less packaging waste, which further reduces the amount of waste to recycle or send to landfill.

The public is also increasingly demanding green cleaning in schools. At the end of last year, Green Seal Inc., a nonprofit organization that provides science-based environmental standards, reported that approximately ten states have enacted Green Clean School Acts that require or encourage the use of environmentally sensitive cleaning products in schools. Similar legislation will continue to occur this year and into 2011.

Though guidelines in each state can differ, under the acts, schools are required to purchase green products that include bathroom cleaners, carpet cleaners, general purpose cleaners, glass, wall and mirror cleaners, as well as a hand cleaners, soap and paper products. Additionally, more states are requiring that the green cleaning products used carry one of three leading eco-labels: Green Seal, Design for the Environment (DfE) from the Environmental Protection Agency, or EcoLogo of Canada.

Additionally, research from the Healthy Schools Campaign, a nonprofit agency that advocates for healthy school environments, shows a clear link between poor indoor quality, sick students and teachers and poor academic and occupational performance.


In looking ahead this year and beyond, Ashkin says he recalls a time not too many years ago when his annual prediction was simply that the cleaning industry would start taking a closer look at cleaning products that have less impact on the environment, users and building occupants.

“I am pleased to say we have come a very long way in the past few years,” he says.

As for his predictions for 2010, Ashkin believes the following are not only “in the cards,” but will likely materialize in 2010:

• More consumer and household cleaning products will be green certified, which will also bolster the use of green-certified cleaning products in the professional cleaning industry.
• The industry’s first green-certified disinfectants will be available in the United States.
• More state and local governments will require that green cleaning products and systems be used in educational and government facilities.
• Organizations, such as the Healthy Schools Campaign, Practice Greenhealth, the Green Hotel Association and others, will grow in membership and influence.
• More companies will require their vendors to demonstrate that they are taking steps to become greener and more sustainable.
• All segments of the professional cleaning industry—manufacturers, distributors, and facility service providers—will become more sustainable and environmentally responsible.

Ashkin also believes that 2010 may be the year that the professional cleaning industry is recognized for its leadership role in promoting green cleaning and environmental responsibility.

“Our industry has made a big impact on so many businesses and [other] industries,” he says. “We have become a role model of what can be accomplished when an industry decides it is time to go green.”

In this issue of Services, we asked a number of cleaning industry experts for their thoughts on green cleaning and what we can expect this year.

A special thanks to the following individuals for taking the time to help educate our readers: Steve Ashkin, president of the Ashkin Group; Frank Trevisani, manager of building services for Spartan Chemical Company, Inc.; Faruuk Tillaev of the Green Cleaning Association; Todd Hancock, vice president sales/marketing of AHI Facility Services; Mark Stanland, director of marketing for Wausau Paper; and Ying Zhang, senior product manager—hard surface cleaning, Rubbermaid. Here is what they had to say.

How important will the green cleaning industry be in 2010?

Spartan: Green cleaning is not going away. I see a steady growth in 2010 and beyond. Green is everywhere now and it is the topic in every publication from cleaning trade magazines to car and homes and garden magazines. The environment and how we take care of it seems to be the wave of the future and rightfully so. The slowdown in the economy has made people more cost conscious, but still green cleaning is the cleaning of choice.

Green Cleaning Association: We are confident that the green cleaning industry will be very vital and important, if not dominating. With current global economical and environmental situation, the need to be eco-friendly is growing fast. More and more companies are turning “green” and more people are becoming aware of the importance of using eco-friendly, nontoxic products and preventing harm to nature. The cleaning industry is one of the fields that needs to be green, because heavy use of chemicals and other products contribute quite a share to the pollution and household health. As demand for green cleaning rises, the industry will flourish and expand.

Ashkin: At one point people really thought of green cleaning as a trend or a fad, so they weren’t even sure it was here to stay. Others thought it would be around to stay, but that it was optional. It is my belief now that green
cleaning will become best practices in our industry. We are about three to five years away from this. It only makes sense that if we can avoid the risk of harm to our workers, as well as to building occupants, and we can do it for no additional cost, it’s pretty hard to see why people wouldn’t do that. I really do predict that the cleaning industry will be at the forefront of the change.

AHI Facility Services: I believe if you are a BSC and you are not green cleaning and using as many chemicals and equipment [as you can], then you are subject to losing accounts. People nationwide have read about the importance of green cleaning and will want their facilities to be as green as possible. This is becoming second nature in our industry. It does not cost more for green cleaning and all the manufacturers know that to survive they must make sure they are complying with all green initiatives.

Wausau Paper: The continuous focus on buying green and its environmental benefits has increased the demand for green products in the away-from-home marketplace. This growth follows our new products and programs we have introduced over the past few years.

Rubbermaid: Green cleaning has been, and will continue to be among the biggest drivers in the cleaning industry moving forward in 2010 and beyond. The trend and opportunity is apparent just by looking at some key pieces of the industry landscape. You’re seeing increased awareness—both in consumer and commercial space—with regard to environmental and health impacts of the cleaning products we use. You’re also seeing an increased number of procurement guidelines relating to green cleaning, particularly in the institutional (i.e. schools) segment, and—due in large part to the previous two items—you’re seeing an increasing number of manufacturers launch an increasing number of green-positioned cleaning products.

What new green products and techniques are on the market for 2010?

Ashkin: We know that hot water helps the cleaning process. We also know now that looking at the lifecycle impact of a cleaning product and the cleaning process in which it is used, that the greatest environmental impact actually comes from heating the water. It’s not really the product itself or the packaging—it literally comes from the energy used to heat the water. New technologies will be able clean as well, but with cold water. Other issues that are starting to happen are things like day cleaning, which will help reduce energy consumption. I think day cleaning with drive some innovations in technologies that are quieter.

AHI Facility Services: One new piece of technology we are using is the AT P monitor tester. This device is a swab tester that measures the bacteria count on a surface. We are using this for a selling tool, but also in our quality control division.

Spartan: I see more green/sustainable products as the next generation of green. I think you will see green technology in such old school products as laundry and ware wash that have not seen new technology in many years. I don’t see any new techniques in cleaning; I feel we always knew the correct way to clean; the problem was we always compromised cleaning when it came to cost and now we are realizing that if we compromise cleaning, we can jeopardize our health.

Green Cleaning Association: There is heavy competition among green cleaning products already compared to a few years ago. Most people and companies do not use conventional cleaning products that are petroleum-based and have high toxicity. Instead, products by Core Products, Eco Concepts and Simple Green are gaining in popularity. Not only are store shelves full of green cleaning products, the use of traditional, natural cleaning methods is on the rise as well. Vinegar and baking soda can clean almost anything, and Coca Cola can get most nasty stains off hard surfaces.

Wausau Paper: This past January, we launched the first Green Seal-certified extended length roll towels in the away-from-home market. They are made from 100-percent recycled fiber and exceed U.S. EPA guidelines for post-consumer waste content. The roll towels offer excellent value and greater capacity for reduced maintenance time and costs and the Green Seal-certified roll towels are ideal for schools, universities, stadiums and other high-traffic areas.

Rubbermaid: In 2010, we will see continued adoption of microfiber in the industry. Healthcare will still be the largest adopter of microfiber, with 40 percent of this sector either already using microfiber or in the process of converting to it. However, almost all segments we are in have realized the benefits of microfiber and have started to embrace it. Institutional users are seeing microfiber as a viable solution to their biggest challenges. Due to microfiber’s acceptance in healthcare for reducing hospital acquired infections (HAIs) and its resignation as green cleaning tool, school officials are driving adoption and putting more emphasis on cleaning for health. Public school systems are being driven to adopt green cleaning methods by regulations. Microfiber is also recognized by LEED as an essential part of a sustainability program, so building service contractors are encouraged to include microfiber products in their portfolios. Hospitality users are also rapidly adopting microfiber as their guests are increasingly demanding greener cleaning products be used to clean the rooms. Microfiber is already growing 15 times faster than traditional cleaning products and will continue to be one of the biggest engines for the entire commercial cleaning industry. Another emerging trend for 2010 is heavier focus on training and support. Since microfiber is still a relatively new cleaning tool, it is as important for end users to understand how to properly use these tools and what the best practice cleaning procedures are. T hose manufactures who not only provide innovation quality products, but also offer comprehensive training programs have well-positioned themselves to be the leader of the category.

What new green cleaning regulations are there that the cleaning industry needs to be aware of?

Green Cleaning Association: Federal, state and local governments control the use of hazardous chemicals in public, therefore many states have passed laws requiring public services to use environmentally friendly products, where financially feasible. Last year, Maryland became the 19th state to adopt a law requiring K-12 schools to use green cleaning products only. The Environment Protection Agency has established limitation of more than 40 consumer and commercial products that will go into effect in July, which will affect the products that are not environmentally friendly. The companies that still use toxic products might experience limitations on their use, or even shortage of the product. Although green cleaning products are a safer and cheaper alternative to regular cleaning products, government regulation of heavily toxic chemicals will be limiting the use of those products.

Spartan: Many segments of the cleaning industry are asking for green cleaning or, at least, clean with green products. I see this growing because it has now become cost neutral to use green cleaning products. I see the industry realizing that industry certifications and green standards are now in place to guarantee that cleaning is done in an organized and healthy way. The old business as usual and counting ceiling tiles are no longer accepted and that an organized work schedule and work-loading system, along with realistic productivity rates, are the norm and not the exception anymore. People want to deal with an organization that have systems in place to manage their business.
These customer demands are changing the cleaning industry and forcing them to change or be left in the dust.

Rubbermaid: We will continue to see the adoption of regulations/procurement guidelines in the institutional segment (education and government in particular) both in terms of programs such as Healthy Schools Campaign, and state governments enacting regulations for schools in many cases. The latest version of LEED (specifically LEED for Existing Buildings) is another important touchstone for those that are building to attain, or building to emulate, LEED accreditation.

Have you noticed an increase in client demand over the past year with green cleaning?

AHI Facility Services: Green cleaning is everywhere—in meetings with local organizations to city bids and almost in all RFPs. One thing we did in 2008 is push sustainability throughout our whole company. We have in all our printed material, “We Don’t Just Clean It...We Green it….”

Green Cleaning Association: The public is becoming greener, environmental awareness is increasing and, at the same time, the demand for green service is rising too. Consumers nowadays are more concerned about the effects of various cleaning products and chemicals on health and environment, and rather than just any cleaning services, the demand for green cleaning services is increasing. Over the past year, our cleaning companies have reported that green cleaning service requests have doubled, and the demand for environmentally friendly products and their use is increasing.

Wausau Paper: As in previous years, green products and services continue to be a growing trend in the jan/san industry. Now more than ever, end users are incorporating environmental factors into their decision-making process. Facilities are seeking products that are made with methods less harmful to the environment. Furthermore, products bearing a third-party environmental certification are a trend. This assures end users that the products purchased meet objective criteria as set forth by the certifying organization and take the guesswork out of the decision-making process, thus making it easier.

Spartan: I have seen a gradual rise in the demand for green cleaning. The high profile companies and property managers see it as a must have because every one of their peers are demanding it. I still think there is a fear that it is going to cost more, though it is now proven to be cost neutral. We are starting to see people ask for green cleaning and use the green template set up by LEED even though they are not seeking to be LEED certified. I see it in schools, universities, hospitals etc. Green cleaning is healthy cleaning.

How large of a part does green cleaning play in your business?

Green Cleaning Association: Our business is based on green cleaning, so I’d say green cleaning is a vital part of our business. The Green Cleaning Association is dedicated to increasing environmental awareness and promoting green cleaning services. We understand the positive impact that green cleaning will have on the industry and environment and are committed to expand and broaden the use of eco-friendly, non-toxic products and services.

Spartan: Green/sustainable is an evergrowing part of our business. The new products we are developing are not reformulations of old products, but are new products from new formulas and the newest materials. We see it to be a bigger part of our business as we move forward.

Wausau Paper: Cleaning is an essential activity necessary to create healthy indoor environments. Today, the development of new paper products and dispensing systems has resulted in green products that perform as well, if not better than their traditional counterparts.

Rubbermaid: We are committed to offering the smartest solutions to facilities maintenance professionals. This portfolio includes everything from recycling to green cleaning to water conservation. Providing smarter cleaning solutions is something that we have done for decades, and offering a green cleaning portfolio is a natural extension of that.

AHI Facility Services: We tell every new and existing customer we use 100 percent green, chemical, processes and equipment.


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