I am oftentimes asked about the validity and value of green cleaning and many of the certifications that are being promoted today. First of all, unless the zombies actually do take over the world, I believe that green cleaning, sustainability and certifications are here to stay. If they do take over it may not matter in a post-apocalyptic world. Although there are many definitions I like to think of green cleaning as simply “using environmentally safe processes and products to clean an area or surface with minimal or no impact on the environment while protecting the health of all living things which includes humans as well as wildlife”. Green cleaning also touches on sustainability in that the focus should be on choosing products that come from sources other than petroleum such as corn, soybean and other renewable chemicals that are considered bio-renewable.
Multiple studies have demonstrated that correct green cleaning not only improves the environment (both indoors and out) but also can reduce health issues from asthma to serious cancers. I vividly remember confronting a neighbor who was draining his vehicle oil into the storm drain. I lived in Orlando at the time and Florida is a large sand bar with very porous soil so that whatever he put into the storm drain ended up in someone’s drinking water. Not only should commercial cleaning services respect the need to use a sanitary system or collection site (when appropriate) to dispose of chemicals and petroleum based products, homeowners should take a moment to consider where the chemicals they use ends up when dumped in a storm drain or household sink.
Some of you may be old enough remember the news report of the man who flipped his cigarette into a river and it caught fire. Others may remember when many rivers frothed and foamed due to high phosphate laundry detergents being dumped (oftentimes untreated) into drains that ultimately ended up in rivers, lakes and eventually the ocean. We certainly do not want to go back to those days when the air, water and even the land was being poisoned. If we do not care about our own health we should consider the impact on future generations who will either suffer the ill effects of our poor stewardship or have to pay to restore their polluted environment.
Commercial cleaning professionals need to take ownership of the chemicals used and how they are disposed since it is not only the law but the right thing to do. There are many different resources to which we can turn. One primary resource is a quality distributor who is knowledgeable and can provide guidance and training for complying with the law. Many provide training in green topics and even tests to demonstrate the level of understanding achieved. Some of the certifications are for individuals while others are for companies or even buildings. It is important that you research the different certifications and choose the one that best fits your particular needs. Following are a few to consider:
• USGBC (United States Green Building Council) which is an association that promotes LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) for buildings. The focus is providing environments that are healthy and sustainable. They also have the LEED AP certification for individuals with many distributors having one or more on their staff.
• ECOLOGO is an Underwriters Laboratory program that reviews products, processes, resources, chemicals used, waste disposal, packaging, emissions and energy consumption.
• CRI (Carpet and Rug Institute) is a trade association that focuses on vacuums, extractors and chemicals used in the carpet and fabric cleaning industry.
• Bio Preferred is a service of USDA (US Department of Agriculture) that promotes the use of bio based products to reduce reliance on foreign petroleum products and increase sustainability.
• ISSA has the CIMS GB (Cleaning Industry Management Standard – Green Building) that focuses on a non-prescriptive management framework with Module 6 complying with USGBC standards for LEED certification. They also have the I.C.E. (Industry Certification Expert) which many manufacturers have on their staff.
There are other agencies and associations that focus on one or more areas of the environment.
Most of these require training, testing and possibly an onsite audit to achieve the recognition. Most are fee based. Please note that not all certifications are valid since there is “Green Wash” in many different forms. If a distributor claims that their product is “as green as….” beware unless they have a Green Seal label or other valid third party documentation. For instance, there is religious group that will certify your company as green for as little as a $600.00 processing fee but it is not worth the certificate they send to you. Buyer beware!!!!
Some may argue that the new, green friendly products are not as effective, as fast or strong as the products they are replacing. My response is that we may need to look beyond convenience and determine the lasting impact of the chemicals being used. An extreme example is that at one time it was common practice to use twenty-six percent hydrochloric acid on a regular basis. Not only was it dangerous to use for the user and the surface but it was simply overkill in most cases. When mixed with bleach or ammonia, it could emit toxic fumes that could be fatal. Why expose a worker to possible acid burns, lung and skin damage or even death when there are safer, and more effective products available even if they take a little more time?
At the end of the day it is up to each of us to take ownership of not only legally complying with green standards but also to be good stewards of the environment. Although you may not feel the need to be certified by a third party, it may open doors for new business as well as separating you from your competition. Please check out the resources listed above for many benefits to not only your bottom line but also the environment we all share.